10/21/05
Friday, 10-21, we had one of our most fun days yet.  First we went to
Healdsburg to trade in our SOAR.  We hung out with Larry, talked about Costa
Rica, set up another river trip for Sunday, and headed to the vineyards.  I had
picked one winery, Johnson's Alexander Valley, out of the hundreds there are
around here because the brochure said they grew Riesling (my favorite wine)
and made late harvest wines (more sweet than regular harvest) and they give
tours.  On our way however, we stopped in at a random vineyard and the lady
at the tasting counter was snotty and I wanted to ask questions rather than
taste her dry wines and so we left thinking our vineyard adventures may not go
so well.  However, when we got to Johnson's they were out of Riesling to taste,
but when we started asking questions, the owner, Ellen, took us out to the barn
to taste the Petite Sirah grapes that they were harvesting that day, then to the
fields to taste the Riesling grapes.  As we stood out in the hot sun talking about
growing grapes, she told us she was going to be crushing grapes that night,
and we could certainly come back and help.  Of course we jumped at the
chance, raced home to put on dirty clothes (my jeans that were torn up picking
blackberries to be exact) and we even grabbed our boots, just to make sure
we looked serious about working hard and getting dirty.  When we got back
Ellen put us right to work.  Richard's first job was to load the crusher with the
bins of grapes.
Then Ellen and another tourist Ellen had talked into helping, Orletta, started up
the crusher.  My job was to load all the stems that the crusher separated out and
dropped onto the ground into a bin.  It was an easy job, those little, lightweight
stems don't pile up very fast.
Meantime Richard was given the job of holding the hose that ran all the crushed
grapes into the large bins where they will start primary fermentation.  (Looks a lot
bigger than our little 13 gallon round one doesn't it?  We kept thinking we should
have brought ours, that hose would have filled it in 3 seconds.)  
Once that bin full of grapes was crushed, Richard climbed back on the fork-lift,
loaded in a new bin full of grapes, and I got to climb up and run the crusher.  (Richard
had to go back to hose duty again.  That was the messiest job because it would
slosh out of the hose and up onto everything.  He didn't mind, he just kept licking his
face and fingers to get all the splatters off.)  
Everything was going smoothly, but Ellen ran out of good bins to put the crushed
grapes in.  Her neighbor had borrowed all of her bins, which she didn't think would
be a problem because she borrows labor from the neighboring farms to get her
picking done, and she didn't think she would have pickers.  When she found out
her pickers were coming, she saw she had a few bins left, and didn't think about it,
but all that she had left had leaks.  We had filled the two large bins all the way to
the top, but they were slightly tilted and we could have gotten more in if they were
level, so Ellen moved them, very carefully of course since they were so full, to a
flatter spot.  We thought we could get more in both, and found one of the smaller
bins that the non-crushed grapes were in that did not leak, so we figured we could
get all her grapes crushed that night, and she would have to scoop some out of
each into good bins the next day (she had put silicone on some of the leakers, but
that wouldn't be ready that night of course.)  So we started emptying non-crushed
grapes out of the non-leaking bin into a leaker so we could proceed.  
You know
Richard and me,
then next to me is
Orletta, then
Ellen, and her
little Niece
Natalie.  Natalie
was helping too,
she kept taking
grapes out of the
non-leaking bin,
we just never saw
her put them in
the leaking bin...  
Maybe her messy
mouth can
explain?
Richard finally had his hands on the pitchfork, and thought he should try to feed
me with it, isn't he nice?  See how little I give him compared to what he gives
me?  (You might also notice that my tongue is already purple from sneaking
grapes all evening.  That Natalie was a good example.)
So, we thought we had it all figured out, but when we were about half way done
with emptying the non-leaking bin, Ellen noticed that one of the two big full bins
had started leaking, big time.  Apparently moving it had created a crack, and all
her crushed grapes, which is money to her, were dripping out onto the ground.  
She jumped into the truck to go see what she could get back from the neighbor,
and we continued to empty the one good bin.  When she got back with word that
the neighbor was bringing more smaller bins back, she and I got 5 gallon buckets
and started scooping crushed grapes out of the large leaker into the small
non-leaker.  I was at this task till the end since I was the only one tall enough to
bend over all the way to the bottom of the large bucket to get the grapes out.  
Richard helped me, by standing on an overturned 5 gallon pail.  Wish I had gotten
a picture of that for you.                       
So now it was well past dark, we had saved all the crushed grapes from running
out onto the ground, but Ellen still had two full bins of grapes yet to crush, and
you're supposed to crush them the same day they're picked.  At that moment, the
neighbor arrived with two more small bins, just enough for her to get all her
grapes crushed.  He promised to bring more bins the next day, we all went out to
dinner, with purple spots all over our clothes, and we begged to be allowed to
come back and help on Saturday.  She didn't say no to free labor, she even
invited us to come every day and help her rack wine and run the crushed grapes
through the press.  So, until our time at this NACO park runs out, you can find us
at Johnson's Alexander Valley Winery.