Working crush at a winery during harvest
So, you wanna work at a winery during harvest, do you? Have you thought about trying your hand at making wine? Maybe you want to give harvest a go to see what it’s like. Crush is a great way to get your hands dirty — stained purple, actually (wear gloves) — and to get a glimpse of what winemaking is like. Go for it! I had the opportunity to spend a few days on the crush pad in exchange for some valuable hands-on education. Every winery is a little bit different, but the fundamentals are the same. I knew it wasn’t going to be glamorous, but I was not prepared for just how much work it takes to make wine.
Here are the top 7 things I learned while working crush:
1. Don’t use crush to kick start your fitness goals. You need muscles to make wine!
…and you need those muscles before harvest!
If you’re not already in great shape, I recommend you start working out prior to arriving at the winery. In fact, start right now. Don’t even finish reading this article, just drop and give me 10 pushups immediately. Making wine is physical and it’s challenging if you’re not fit. I thought this would be a great way to kickstart my non-existent workout regime. My idea of fitness was “fit’ness taco in my mouth.” I sit at a desk and write about wine. I drink wine. My idea of multitasking is writing about wine while drinking wine. So at the end of each work(out) day in the cellar, I was completely exhausted and everything was sore. Body parts I didn’t even know I had were sore. Don’t underestimate the importance of getting in decent shape before you agree to work in a cellar.
2. Winemaking is 90% cleaning.
So. Much. Cleaning.
90% might be a conservative amount as I was soaked in water for pretty much my entire time in the cellar. Every single thing gets sprayed down with a hose, sanitized, wiped, taken apart, sprayed, put back together, sprayed again and sprayed some more. That’s not an exaggeration. There are several water hoses throughout the cellar and on the crush pad, and I’m certain every single one of them got me at some point. Fortunately, the spray guns have arrows to point out which way the water is going to come out, otherwise this rookie would have had a face full of water many, many times.
3. When making wine, rubber boots are your best friend.
Wine guts and wet feet are not fun.
Not only because of all the spraying down of every single piece of equipment in the cellar, but the splashy splash of grape juice and the grape guts that get stuck to you. No matter how careful you are, making wine gets messy. Rubber boots kept my feet and legs dry up to my shins which is especially comforting when it’s getting cold out. Fall is not a fun time for wet feet. Also, you’re on your feet the whole time. There’s no sitting in winemaking. So invest in a quality pair of boots and get yourself some comfortable insoles. You can thank me later.
4. You may never get the smell of fermenting grapes out of your nose
…or the wine stains out of your clothes.
Fortunately, I don’t really mind either of those things. If I did, I probably shouldn’t be in the wine biz. Smell is an amazing memory recall. Now every time I swirl a glass of wine and take a sniff, it brings me right back to doing an hour and a half Merlot pump over. My arms get sore just thinking about it.
5. Everyone gets a nickname for crush!
The Cellar: where nobody knows your name.
I don’t actually know the real names of most of the people I worked with. One woman’s name was Gary, but I never did get the reason. We also called her Gaz. Yeah, I don’t know why or how she got that nickname either. There was also LiLi and KiKi. Nope — I don’t know their names either. Of course, I can’t forget about the woman appropriately named The Legend. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there long enough to get myself a nickname. I guess it’s a rite of passage and I didn’t earn it. I’m okay with that.
6. You’ll never forget your Harvest crew.
The struggle is real, and so is the bond.
I teared up a little on my last day. I was at the winery for a week and only in the cellar for a few days, but for some reason I still didn’t want to say goodbye. Can you imagine if I had started at the beginning and went through to the end of harvest? I’d have been a mess! I walked into the middle of people who already cared very much for each other, like a small family. I learned that not everyone who works harvest works at the winery the rest of the year. In fact, a couple of the women I worked with were heading to Australia for harvest season in the southern hemisphere after they finished up harvest in Canada. Another woman was there from France and I bet I’ll one day I’ll read about her as the head winemaker somewhere — if only I knew her real name!
7. Addicted to crush: you’ll want to work harvest again — and again.
In spite of the pain, working crush is pretty awesome.
When you get the wine bug, there’s no cure. It’s not long before you forget about the uncertainty, the grape guts, and the sore muscles. Your memories turn away from that feeling of exhaustion to remembering how much you love the smell of fermenting grapes in the autumn air. You’ll remember how your crew felt like family and you don’t even care if they ever learned your name. You’ll probably want to drink all of the wine from the vintage you helped with. I can’t wait to see 2018 on some bottles of beautiful juice that I literally had my hands in. It’s a pretty awesome feeling to be part of something as special as making wine.