The Harvest Hand Workout, or How I Learned to Love Pinot Noir

If you’ve been reading this blog as long as I have, you may remember a couple years back when we launched an amphibious assault on the Wineries of the Willamette Valley, and just didn’t enjoy it as much as the places we’d visited in the Columbia Gorge. At the time we thought that perhaps the Pinot Noir wasn’t for us, but on further discussion it wasn’t so much the liquids, but the high tasting fees (compared to the Columbia Gorge) and just the feeling that we weren’t as warmly received as we were in other wine regions.

Frequent readers will know by now that our research seems to indicate that wine is sold more on an emotional connection, than what is specifically in the bottle.

Did we not know how to enjoy Pinot Noir, or was the situation where it was presented less than what we’ve learned to expect?

So why bring this up now? Fall of 2017 cracked over our heads like an egg into a hot skillet. What do you do if you’re 48 and need a job? Hey, why not be a harvest hand?

Here we are in a quiet moment on the deck behind the Torii Mor teahouse:

Torii Mor harvest crew 2017

Can one be a harvest hand at 49? Well, it didn’t kill me. In fact, at the end of harvest I was so fit I could do pull-ups again.  The thing is, no one single task is too hard during Harvest, it’s the marathon aspect – 12 hours sorting grapes and you’re back at it again at 8am the next day and the next day and the next day and the next day and the next day.

That’s the hard part.  Standing up and doing every day, day after day until it’s done.  Here’s Steph doing a great job of Taking Care of Business:

Torii Mor 2017 Harvest season

Here’s the thing: making wine is mostly about cleaning things and moving heavy things around.  Endless respect to Jon for putting together a stellar crew.  Not one whiner, not one shirker, not one bum in the group.  If you needed something, by the time you turned around someone was handing the tool you needed almost before you asked.

Here’s Diane Nemarnik getting hands-on with Steph barreling down the wine she made with her grapes in the Torii Mor facility:

We also made wine for Dr. Mike. He’s a good guy, he had no qualms about getting his hands dirty helping us clean the equipment at the end of the day. However, he was a little confused. I don’t have a photo of this, but he generously brought some of his wine for the harvest crew to taste, and the guy with the good-paying day job asked, “So, what part of this is the best?” We looked at each other, and had to answer, “This part – the sitting down and tasting wine.” Why? Because there’s nothing fun about 12 hours of sorting grapes unless you’re touched in the head.

It’s just bloody hard work.  It’s rewarding, but it feels best when you stop.

Look, I’m going to tell you that  my favorite part of the work was throwing the punch-down stick over my shoulder and walking down to the cellar to work over the fermenters, feeling strong and vital and part of a thousands-something year old tradition of making wine.  Here’s what it looked like:

Hey, shall we flip some casks and steam the heck out of them? Of course!

Yes, I can run a forklift now.

Here’s a rare photo of Jon almost standing still.

As I mentioned before, making wine is mostly about cleaning things. I know, how romantic!

I was usually taking the photos, so here’s a rare one of your author proving that he wasn’t making this stuff up.

I hope I don’t have to tell you that this whip-thin set of grrlz did every physical thing us grunty/sweaty man-men did without complaint, if not straight out putting us to shame with their abilities.

Here’s a rare photo of our winemaker Jacques actually standing still. The rest of us had the easy jobs – just follow orders. The ultimate success of our efforts fell on his shoulders and he was one very busy man. Outside of the knowledge he carries around about turning grapes into something you might want to drink, I am still in awe of how he’d fill a five-gallon bucket full of bentonite and zip up an 80′ ladder with it like he was taking a sandwich to kindergarten.

Torii Mor

Here’s Jacque again, schooling us on how to take care of the casks.

Torii Mor

So, Pinot Noir? Yes, I’ve learned to love it. You have to watch out for it’s subtlety. Stand back and wait for it to come to you. It wasn’t easy, but I’ve had a chance to taste it at every step of the process and now I have that emotional connection spoken of at the start of this missive. Mayhaps you can have a journey half as rewarding as the one I’ve had.

This post wouldn’t be complete without this great portrait of Jeromy.

Torii Mor

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