EYE can’t see me sitting in a cube today. Grape harvest is going full bore and grapes wait for no man. As an open invitation has been extended to V&I to show up at French Creek whenever we want, and Charlie Hoppes himself invited me to the production facility whenever I have an “EYE problem” – today appears to be as good a day as any. The sun seemed to be pleased to see me outside as it crept over the hill and illuminated grapevines.
The sun seems to be in a hurry this morning for some reason to get on with the rest of its day – while I on the other hand want to slow down the hands of time. By the time the glorious sunrise colors have faded the crew has already picked one bin, about one thousand pounds, and half of another bin. They were already well into their day and when I stood at the end of the row watching taking pictures they all turned around as if to say “What took you so long to get here?” I flashed back to what Charlie and Mitch said about the work crew picking their Merlot last weekend on Red Mountain when one of the attendees asked if they could join in the fun. The response was something like “You couldn’t keep up, they are fast.”
As much as I love watching other people work, I need to track down Damon. He is out here somewhere. Ah there he is!We walk through the rows and talk about the harvest activity for the winery, Dusted Valley, which is picking up seven bins of French Creek Chardonnay. Dusted Valley is another family owned enterprise that seems to be doing well and I go back in recent memory to last month’s edition of Wine and Spirits where V&I read about the recent accolades of Dusted Valley. I go back farther pulling the threads of memory and think it was 2005 when V&I first tasted their wine in the basement of the house on Old Milton Highway and we couldn’t stop talking about how pleasant they were and the wine too! Note to B…need to contact them and make sure we get in on some of the 2013 French Creek effort!
As we walk the vineyard rows we talk about different clones of Chardonnay, the Wente and the Musque’. Damon thinks he knows where one Wente Clone vine is in French Creek. We walk up and down the rows sampling a berry here, one there. Then all of a sudden, one tastes completely different! This one is juicy, not as sweet as the ones we randomly picked out as we walked; a bit musty, not great deal of acid, and yet tons of Chardonnay flavor essence.
As we continued walking it appears there is some plumbing activity going on at 15 French Creek.“Not my fault!” I blurt out. Damon laughs. He does that a great deal out here. Who wouldn’t? He has one of the best offices I have ever been to and he has great help too. Joaquin is always smiling too. He loves his job, dependable, and takes a great deal of pride in his labors. It is very visible to say the least.
All the bins have been weighed, tallied, loaded on the flatbed of Dusted Valley’s truckand destined to be great wine in the hands of the skilled winemaker.
The crew is off to another location to pick more grapes, the now loaded truck is on its way to Walla Walla, and I bid my goodbyes to Damon and Joaquin. This day is getting over way too fast. However, it is time to see the Wine Boss.
I am in time to see Mitch dumping a bin of fermented Merlot into the press, then in goes another.On the other end of the press the extracted fluid flows out to be pumped into waiting barrels. This time of year in the Production Facility there is no end of work. There is Chardonnay to transfer, Lab work, a fresh shipment of grapes, a truckload of new barrels to unload, and tank pumpovers. It is a flurry of activity and Charlie is everywhere and seemingly enjoying every moment.
I am in awe. After today, wine will not be the same for me; each glass consumed in the context of what I observed. The workers cutting grape clusters so fast it was hard to keep up, the transfer of custody of those grapes from vineyard to wine maker, the production facility crew, cellar rats, in the production facility doing so many different things it made my head swim. Unloading the aforementioned truckload of new barrels so rapidly all the pictures were blurry. In spite of the sometime blurred digital pictures, this day is indelibly imprinted in my memory. I am a blessed man, EYE problem and all, to have friends which allow me to hang around the places where their calling and lives intersect.
I am in a state of sensory and information overload and to top it off I am cognizant of the fact that with harvest and wine grape processing means upcoming cooler temps. The inevitable cycle continues as it has, as it does, and as it will do.
The reminder of cooler temps jogs my memory that we are having our annual dinner tomorrow evening with T&V. We share hockey tickets with them and “The Division” means hockey games are not far behind, in fact two Saturday evenings will be the season opener. It also reminds me that the Red Mountain Block party the weekend after that is fast approaching.
I am also keenly aware that I have witnessed – EYE problem and all – a passion played out today in the vocations of individuals that I call friends. In the field and in the production facility, these individuals were not just showing up and going through the motions. They are the reason why the Washington Wine Industry; Walla Walla, and Red Mountain specifically are growing; thriving, making people sit up and take notice. Today also served to be a recalibration, an impulsion, a defibrillation for me, I won’t just show up in the cube. I know I see better now, the EYE problem has cleared up, and I am back from the brink of pointlessness.