to the southern hemisphere & beyond

by crushed & stirred

It’s hard to believe, but it’s true: my time in Sonoma and at Donelan is officially winding down. There was a period of a couple of months when I first got here that all bled together – I was so overwhelmed by the brave new world of my job and so many new people, places, things. Then there were the harvest months, which also bled together – a whirlwind of work and fruit and people and cuts and bruises and exhilaration and adrenaline and work and fruit and and and – I can almost trick myself back into that mode just by talking about it.

A December vineyard, Russian River Valley

Things have mellowed. There’s still a lot on my plate at the winery and I often feel like there’s not enough time in a day to do everything I need to. I still worry I’m not working fast enough, though it takes me roughly half the time it once did to do many things.

Still, I’d like to cut it all down by half again. And so on.

I’ve been learning from the pros – both those I work with and those I play with and I feel lucky to have been surrounded by people who are both so knowledgeable and such great company. I’ve had a lucky and happy run here.

But my learning goes onward now, and southward. Since moving here, I have drunk not just wine but also the wine industry’s proverbial Kool Aid. Like a great many of my friends and fellow cellar rats, I will be heading to the southern hemisphere come February. I have accepted a seasonal position in New Zealand, in the winemaking region of Hawke’s Bay – the eastern coast of the North Island.

To this I say – WHAT?! It seems INSANE. And yet there it is:

Hawke’s Bay

Right now summer is in full flower in Hawke’s Bay, where it is 21 hours behind and 40 degrees (F) ahead of Healdsburg. I will arrive just before harvest goes full throttle – and they call it “vintage” there rather than harvest, fyi. Start practicing your Kiwi, dear readers, because you’re coming with me. I promise to provide a glossary where applicable.

I’m excited. It will be a very different environment. Even the cellars across the street from Donelan do just about everything differently from the way we do. In New Zealand, I’ll be working at an estate winery that processes 1000 tons of fruit a season – more than 10 times what we did at Donelan this year.

The team will be bigger, the tanks will be bigger, the lots will be bigger, the equipment will be bigger – everything will be bigger. Some things will be harder, some will be easier; I’m not sure what will be which yet. Stay tuned.

Other things to look forward to – going back to summer; going back to the electrifying feeling of harvest; getting a second perspective on the industry, which will hopefully help me figure out what my next step will be; the opportunity to travel to a beautiful country and places near it. New people, new wines, new food. Discovery. Sheep.

I will miss this place. A LOT. I have deep and abiding love for the many splendors of Sonoma and the Bay Area. And I will be sorry to leave Donelan, where I found a home and a mission and an education and an espresso machine, where I challenged myself and grew and learned, although I feel like I have more to learn than ever before. I have never had a full time job for this long and I’ve never cared about a job so much. I’ve never felt so invested in the quality of what I was involved in producing, nor so committed to doing right by the people I work alongside.

I have a couple of weeks left at the winery to savor. Then I’ll have a couple of weeks in my hometown to regroup before filling a prescription for tranquilizers and boarding the longest flight of my life.

In the mean time, I’ve got plenty of things to write about that have been in the pipeline for ages. Stick with me & I’ll stick with you.