not so fast

by crushed & stirred

It’s not so different from school. You start to get the hang of something – then they raise the stakes. The hurdles get higher. This is what happened in my best Smith classes. I was presented with a challenge. I threw myself at it with all of my muscle until I had gasped past it. Pleased with myself, I expected to be hailed as a hero. In the best cases I received one brief pat on the back and a long list of things to improve on.

And then the cycle would continue.

Last week I wrote about starting to get used to my responsibilities. Then there was the inaugural cleaning of the tanks. I made lots of jokes about this sort of thing before I moved out here. “What will that involve?” People would ask when I told them I was working at a winery. “Cleaning tanks.” I would say, pretending to know what that meant.

And as part of the pre-harvest scouring of the whole place, the Other Intern and I took it upon ourselves (ie, were instructed) to clean all ten of our tanks. To within an inch of their lives. Twice. This is sort of what they look like:

(except only two of our ten are this big. For scale, imagine that each little hatch is just big enough for me to wiggle through. And I did.)

This process has many obstacles. The tanks are big; I am small. They are stainless steel and their edges have all supposedly been filed but, as Joe said, “your fingers find the sharp spots.” Did they ever.

To make a long story short: after hosing down the tank, inside and out, you scrub them with cleanser inside and out, and all the nooks and crannies, and the lid, top and bottom; and then you do it again. You CLIMB inside of it and scrub down its walls and floor. And then you do that again.

And you get very, very wet and sweaty and a little bloody. And you promise not to get anything else wet: not the walls, which aren’t particularly waterproof; or the electronics and sensitive equipment lining the sides of the room, which are worth well more than I am; or the lovely wooden doors that lead to the tasting room. And when you think you’ve spent 40 minutes scrubbing and rinsing and that couldn’t possibly be more grime – it is, and you scrub it some more.

If you’re me, you give up on this whole pants business pretty quickly and hop into what is essentially a plastic sac with a waistband and get used to being drenched for about 8 hours. You and the Other Intern make the music very loud and take breaks for donuts.

If you’re still me, sometimes you get so discouraged when you singe your hand in hot water, or feel the sting of the unevenly beveled steel slice your cuticle, or feel a gasket stab you in your spine, or a valve whack your skull, or you see a spot you’ve missed after ALL THAT – that you want to cry, and then you remember: You’re OK. Get up. Destroy it.

But my “destroy it” mantra has been further qualified by Joe, the assistant winemaker. Like I said – raising the bar. Joe reminds me: finesse. In packing the espresso as in waxing bottle tops.

Oh yeah. That was another task I proved wholly clumsy at: 24 cases of wine needed to be uncorked, recorked, and then dipped into the sultry, melted-chocolate-looking wax that makes the bottles so pretty. Waxing requires a finesse that I have not yet mastered. Joe said: “Tyler and I are the fasted waxers this side of the Mayacamas mountains.” I walked away in shame.

As I tried and failed and kept trying (and did okay but wasn’t fast enough), I got hungrier. And not just for donuts: for GETTING IT RIGHT.

And now the tanks are shiny and smell great. And I am sore and worn out, my skin hurts, I can’t lift my arms above my head. And in 48 hours I’ll do it again, hopefully in half the time and half the donuts.