Red, red wine . . .

by crushed & stirred

It must be something about the acoustics in the cellar. All those hard surfaces – stainless steel tanks and cement floors – and cavernous spaces with ceilings high enough to store barrels six-high and pallets of wine five-high and tall stacks of cubic-ton fermentation bins four-high. Or maybe it’s something about the  long hours and the loud noises and the sweaty brows and bloody fingertips and the calculated distractions it takes to enjoy all of those.

No matter how you look at it, it’s hard to imagine the cellar without music. Music must be the closest thing there is to any one consistent feature across cellars and the myriad ways they look and operate from winery to winery.

At Donelan, we are fortunate to have speakers throughout the cellar that are hooked up to an iPod dock and that, along with beer, espresso, and sharpies, were our constant companions during harvest and still keep us company during these quieter but still busy times.

things to notice in this picture? the pooling wine on the floor, the Waukesha pump in the foreground that pretty much runs the winery, the jet of steam rising from a barrel being toasted clean . . . and the black speaker nailed to the wall near the upper right corner

My friends at other wineries report similar features, ranging from the more to less primitive. At its worst, the music is an opportunity to fight over genres and artists, just like on family road trips growing up. At its best, it gets everyone energized, motivated, and even singing for punch downs at dawn, endless cleaning late into the night after 13 hours on the clock, and monotonous tasks like topping and barrel washing.

The louder the better – the better to hear over the blasts of the pressure washer or the hum of the destemmer or the beeping of a forklift backup up or the sound of a hose aimed at steel and food-grade plastic. Cellars are loud and the music compensates for all that noise and gives you something to listen to and not just hear.

What gets played? Everything. Pandora stations. Playlists. Albums. But a lot of Pandora stations.

And what do we listen to? It takes all types – or most, at least. Joe even asked me about my music preferences in my first interview, to my great terror. Predictably, some artists make frequent appearances and will now always take me back to harvest 2011 – Van Morrison, Noah and the Whale, Passion Pit, Miike Snow, Florence & the Machine, The Band.

What else?

A lot of reggae; not always my favorite, but there’s something about reggae in the cellar that just works – a little “Red, red wiiiiiiiiiiine” to get you in the mood for racking some red, red wine. Friends who worked a 5 am shift swore by explosive techno remixes to wake them up.

I loved Springsteen and the Darkness (which I rediscovered while scouring my iPod) while cleaning up at 10 pm. Some Sufjan Stevens or “Blood on the Tracks” on cold fall mornings when things were slowing down and there were only a few punch downs to start the day off. A little Florence Welch female power to nudge me on my way through this male world. Some Christmas classics while we dug and pressed the last ferments on frozen December mornings. A classic funk mix I’ve had lying around for ages for cleaning tanks. A great Pandora station that John built off of The Xx and Curtis Mayfield. “Graceland” and MGMT while processing fruit. Tom Waits and Bon Iver for long afternoons topping.

When Tyler is in the cellar, he’s always quick to throw on some Danielson, Animal Collective, or something equally whimsical and inventive, while Joe experiments with various radio apps.

things to notice? the blue dry ice bin to the left; the indispensable punch down tool propped against a tank in the foreground . . . and the speakers both on the left and back walls

I bring this up because it may not have occurred to you when you open a bottle of wine, as it had never occurred to me, just how many steps went into it. From a whole year’s growing season and viticultural issues to the trials and triumphs of harvest through the fermentation and pressing and aging and blending and bottling and distributing and selling, to say nothing of the endless decisions along the way.

And it may not have occurred to you, as it had never occurred to me, that there are people who were a part of each step. And those people were probably dancing around in steel-toed Wellies to some Led Zeppelin III. Or something.