There’s this old corny saying that goes “it takes a lot of beer to make good wine.”  As I am about a month into my first harvest experience here at the top of Howell Mountain, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  You know what it takes?  Water and electricity.  All day, and my days are running about 14 backbreaking hours of physical labor I am surrounded by two of the most deadly elements when combined: water and electricity.

It would behoove me to wear a rain suit all day , but then I’d sweat like Josh Howard in a VFW hall.  It’s been really pleasant weather wise, just balmy, cool, and clear unobstructed views across the valley to western Mayacamus mountains.  I wake up at 5:30 every morning, it’s dark and I make coffee.  I shower at the END of the day now which is in reality a really nice way to go about life you end the day on this super-clean note and wake up, hit the ground, get coffee, eat some Kashi, fill up on Sportscenter and head out the door.

I pray to Jah that each day is not going to be the day when I need to start my routine with a face off with the family of racoons that live in the vicinity of where I live.  I may start packing some steel with me in case this happens, and by steel, I mean a big gnarly sharpened hoe in case I need to chop off some racoon heads one morning.  That would be sad, but I’m also not trying to go hand-to-hand with these bastard trash-guzzling rodents.

Once I’m in my car, NPR is a wasteland so I go through the ipod.  Because it’s dark, but it’s early I opt for some deep shit that’ll get me thinking and freaked out.  Burial, some Tricky, Eluvium, sometime I go shuffle just to see what fate will deal me that particular moment.  Today I went that route and I was really stoked by the time I got to work.  You know how sometimes shuffle plays TWO songs from the same album back to back?  Well I got Jay Reatard “My Shadow” and “Death is Forming.”  Holy cow, I was waiting for the Swedish orgy team to be on the side of the road and give me road massage for giving them a ride to the rainbow they came from.

The ride up the mountain is really pleasant.  You’d have to be Scrooge McDuck’s broken bill not to love the view in certain places/  Once I’m on Howell Mountain road I gain about 1000 feet straight up and then the road continues on the back side of the mountain for about 2 miles.  Conn Valley is way below and the hills are surrounded by morning pockets of fog and cran-orange light from the horizon.  This road is not so much a road as paved surface.  A couple times my heart has taken a nose dive right on top of my nuts as a huge cement truck or equal sized  vehicle comes barreling around a blind corner at about 40 mph +, no big deal and it does more for me than the coffee.  One of these days I’ll bring my coffee with me, pull over to the side of the orad and watch the day come alive wrapped in a electric blanket of 87 degree emotion.  Both hands on the mug, held close to my pursed appreciative lips, losers.

I arrive at the winery, talk shit with my fellow harvesters, mostly focusing on how ugly, stupid and sex deprived they all are, we laugh, it’s cool.  Oh we all have mustaches.  All 5 of us, mine is the best, that’s not me being all uppity, my mustache is the fucking bee’s knees, it’s sick, it howls at the early morning moon then I get to work.

There are two chemicals that dominate my daily existence:  TSP and Citric Acid.  If you found a maggot-infested armadillo carcass on the side of the road, dipped it in TSP/water/Citric/water it would come out a 8 ounce cut of the best damn filet mignon the world has ever seen.  We spend about an hour cleaning all the equipment we will be using that day with this system.  The equipment includes sumps, trays, shovels, hoses of various sizes, an irrigator, pitchers, buckets, graduated cylanders, hydrometers, clamps, and gaskets.  Once the fruit comes in and it is sorted and de-stemmed it is pumped into anywhere from 739-2269 gallon stainless steel tanks where the berries and juice begins to ferment.  Each morning we do pump overs which involves all the equipment listed above.

The sump is a large stainless steel bin that holds 100 gallons. The steel mesh tray sits on top.  We open a valve at the bottom of the tank and the berries and juice come rushing into the tray, the liquid goes in the bin, the berries stay in the tray.  When the berries get too full in the bin, I shovel them into a 5 gallon bucket that weighs in at 35-40 pounds and haul it up about 20 stairs to a cat walk above the tanks and dump it back in the top of the tank.  There can be up to 4 or 5 of these trips and sometime I do 4 or 5 pumovers each morning.  It’s similiar to watching events in World’s Strongest Man competitions, except we are making fine wine.  The liquid is constantly being pumped via a hose through the irrigator at the top of the tank creating a cycling effect, mixing berries and juice and making a smooth even ferment process.

After you use anything, you clean it with tsp/water/citric/water, this may not sound like a big deal, but this is 80% of what I spend my time doing, every winery is this way.  The morning is a stellar time up here, the light comes over one side of the vineyard and lights up the grapes, then it’s behind the guest house, then it’s over towards the west illuminating the valley.  Today after lunch our Assistant Winemaker put a tee in our dirt patio area and blasted a couple balls into the abyss this is below our property.  It drops about 700 feet right off the patio.  We eat lunch together at a big table in the guest house.  Lunch is provided by the winery.  Today we told some dead baby jokes and clown suit jokes, killer stuff.

We have a rough idea of when fruit is going to come in, but it’s never certain.  If fruit shows up at 5:00 pm you have set up the sorting table which is about the width and height of a large dumptruck, de-stemmer, stem bin, auger, pump and make sure the tank the fruit is going into is sterilized and read to go.  It gets cold here at night, down to high 40s, low 50s and when you spend 3 or 4 hours in that temperature handling cold fruit, you get antsy in the pantsy to get it over with.  My hands these days are quite stained purple and there are lots of lines I never had before.

I’m really tired in the morning, and really tired when I get home, my whole body is sore.  But when I get to the bar, that first beer tastes so damn good when I have it, it’s stunning.  I get a little loopy, sometimes there’s a million things happening at once and I’ve been working for 12 hours staright and I haven’t had a day off in 18 days.  It’s hectic, but overall it’s incredibly rewarding and cool to be a part of producing some of the best wine on the planet.  More on that to come.

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