when the moment comes

by crushed & stirred

When it comes to harvest, a winery can get as ready as it wants to. It can pre-clean every corner of the cellar and the equipment. It can think ahead to every problem that arises every year, it can preempt the inconveniences that arose last year with new tricks, tools, and strategic reorganization.

Because we have, after all, almost a year to think about these things. That one corner behind the tanks that always gets missed by the squeegee? That one hose that doesn’t quite fit on the rack? That bottleneck in front of the press? A few carabineers, cable ties, and bungee cords later, we feel like we’re on top of the world. This harvest, no bush-league annoyance will stand in the way of seamless work and utter greatness.


First grapes; the above photo echoes this one below, two years earlier:


can you tell Donelan’s production has grown? the forklift looks a bit worse for the wear, too

It never works. On day one, you congratulate yourself on the things you fixed. On day two, you start bemoaning the new problems you don’t have the time to troubleshoot. On day three, you are so absorbed that you forget that there will ever be another vintage in the future. Luckily, harvests are cumulative and you take each one with you down the road, even if the details seem to escape you in the moment. You do the homework, from research to cramming, and then by the time you take to the lectern, it flows out of you. You hope.

This harvest seems to be taking off at an exponential pace. Our first day of fruit was a whopper. Three press loads of Chardonnay, which is a lot when you run a 280-minute white press cycle, designed for Crémant, the non-Champagne sparkling wine of France. It’s a gentle but macro-oxidative pressing, which is good for our native fermentations. Feed those wild little yeasts some air, let the juice come up temperature, and watch ‘em go.


our big flat juice tray on our gorgeous German beast of a press

But before they go – work until midnight waiting for the press to finish. By the end of the triple shift, we were approaching delirium, singing along to Frank Sinatra tunes from opposite ends of the cellar. The next day, we were dog tired as we went on with our harvest lives. I found myself thinking – am I already flat out? On day two of fruit? The next day was more reasonable and I was reassured. Sometimes you harvest the grapes; sometimes the grapes harvest you. But you keep pushing.


Knights Valley seen from Obsidian Vineyard

So let the chardonnay rain down. And the pinot, too, that can rain down. But not the syrah. It could use a little more time. A heat wave is coming. We’re hoping to hold our horses until the last possible moment – until we get our bottling out of the way at the end of the week and empty eight of our eleven tanks so we can fill them to the brim with another big crop. Friends of mine have processed 50% of their total production in two weeks time. Which is what happens with a steady, warm, awesome growing season; everybody jumps at the same time. Especially when there’s 100 degree weather forecast and the pinot is winking at you from its perch.


Obsidian Vineyard is viticulture’s version of the espresso machine; all the power of altitude, baking heat, volcanic soils, sloping aspects, and mature vines packed into the extremely low yielding, tiny Syrah clusters that produce a bold, muscular, decadent wine

What I have to report on is feeling happy in the cellar. True, managing is still novel and exhausting. It slows me down on tasks I now feel like I can accomplish in negative time and drains me in new ways every day. But explaining does me a world of good. Answering questions has shown me that I haven’t stolen ALL of my moves; some of them I didn’t know were my moves until they, again, flowed out of me. I didn’t know I had preferences on how things were done until I ordered them done in a certain way.

This last Saturday, Joe had me go in to the cellar on my own to rack a tank and fill some barrels. It was the most fun I’ve had on the clock in a long time. Maybe ever. My music, my donuts for breakfast, my chardonnay juice, mine, all mine. No trucks, no deliveries, no pick ups, no customers. No maintenance, no interns, no questions, no comments, nobody to help me. Mine, all mine. It took me back to Margaret River, where I helped my assistant winemaker and roommate extraordinaire, Dylan, on his side projects. Without the pressure from above, I found I moved fluidly, intuitively, and happily. It was the first time I’d felt like I had sea legs since leaving the warm glow of an English class.

We’re as ready as we’ll ever be. 100°F? Sounds hot.