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Harvest Q&A: Memorable First Harvests

From starting crush without a press to learning picking etiquette at the age of 6, winemakers share their memories from crush

Wine Spectator staff
Posted: September 17, 2010

As harvest in the northern hemisphere progresses, Wine Spectator checked in with winemakers from around the world to ask them about harvests past and present. In this three-part series, we excerpt some of their funniest, most surprising and most inspiring responses to our questions. In part 1, we asked:

What was most memorable about your first harvest?

Rollin Soles, Argyle Winery, Oregon's Willamette Valley: I started Argyle in 1987, and [harvest] was an anomaly because it was significantly early, two weeks earlier than normal. We ended up getting an air freight for our tank press from Germany straight to Seattle. I’d scheduled the tank press to get here a week before what we thought was going to be the start of harvest, so it turned out that it was scheduled to be a week late. I got an electrician at the press-making company [in Germany] who literally called me on his office phone—there were no cell phones then—and said, "I just saw the press go out on the truck to the airport," and that’s when I pulled the trigger and started picking our first grapes. We started picking grapes with the tank press still in Germany. We had it up and going 36 hours later. I have a big cold room that holds 40 tons, so we filled it up with 40 tons of grapes overnight, and the only risk was some sort of snafu in transportation.

Marc Perrin, Château Beaucastel and Perrin & Fils, France's Rhône Valley: My [first harvest] memory is really from [the time of] my grandfather. He died when I was 8 so it’s an old memory: this family style that we had at the time. Everybody sleeping there [at the winery], my grandmother cooking for everybody. As a kid, that was kind of a party for me. It was not a party for them, but for us, with my brothers, it was really a party. There was a lot of excitement about it.

Diana Snowden Seysses, Snowden Vineyards, California's Napa Valley: When you are born into a family of grapegrowers, it is hard to pinpoint which is your very first harvest. I remember vividly my first day of second grade, going up to the property with my dad and munching on grapes as they were picked before class started. In the days we sold grapes we used to buy back one barrel of wine made from our own property from Stags Leap to bottle it for family consumption. I remember how magical it seemed when my father primed the siphon to fill the bottler. Hand-bottling and corking with my sister and two cousins as my aunt and uncle churned out homemade strawberry ice cream are some of my fondest memories.

Christophe Baron, Cayuse Winery, Washington's Walla Walla Valley: My first harvest, I was six years old with my dad [at Champagne Baron Albert]. It was the very first one I remember—it was 1976. I was picking grapes; [my dad] would pay me by the bucket, and so what I was doing was getting in front of the pickers and I was picking only the big clusters. I would be filling my buckets, and some of the pickers were a little bit upset about that! [laughing] I had to get my own row to pick. I also remember that harvest because I saw that we left fruit hanging on the vine. We let the birds eat [the grapes], and for me, that was a shock.

Carol Shelton, Carol Shelton Wines, California's Sonoma County: My first harvest was in 1976, working for Lisa VandeWater at the Wine Lab, California's first independent wine analysis lab, in the Napa Valley. It was wild and crazy but exhilarating too, because it calls on all your wits and senses to be alive and contributing, which is particularly difficult at a time when you are exhausted and drained from very long hours. I was still attending UC Davis in enology at the time and had to get back to school in early October, long before crush was all over, but it was enough to inspire me to finish my degree and get back out there, at a time when not many women were allowed to work in production in the wine industry.

Robert Taylor, Ben O'Donnell, Augustus Weed and MaryAnn Worobiec contributed to this report.

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