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Harvest Q&A: Harvest Disasters

From being attacked by bees to a word that doesn’t quite translate to spilled Chardonnay, winemakers share their memories from crush

Wine Spectator staff
Posted: October 1, 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 and most surprising responses to our questions. In part 2, we asked:

What was the worst harvest experience you ever had to deal with?

Justin Smith, Saxum, California's Paso Robles: Harvest is a magnet for disasters. The first day of harvest in 2000,we were picking our Bone Rock block of Syrah at James Berry Vineyard. My 3-year-old son was helping out, and it was a cool foggy morning. I must have stirred up a hornets nest with my tractor, and they all swarmed out of the ground, and attacked my son. One of the pickers heroically put his foot on top of the nest to keep more from coming out while of course getting attacked himself. I grabbed my boy and ran while I swatted them off. What kept the stings to a minimum was the fact that it was so cold out we were all wrapped up, with only our faces showing. Not a fun way to kick harvest off!

Diana Snowden Seysses, Snowden Vineyards, California's Napa Valley: The language barrier during my first French harvest in Bordeaux made that harvest especially challenging. For example, when you ask for a "string" to attach a hose to a tank, it translates to a "g-string"! There is nothing more embarrassing than looking down from your ladder with a heavy, wet hose in your hand at a winery full of French men laughing at you as you earnestly request them to pass you a pair of underwear to attach it.

Christophe Baron, Cayuse Winery, Washington's Walla Walla Valley: I was in Walla Walla at Waterbrook winery in 1993, and I was working what you call the graveyard shift. We were filling the press with some Chardonnay, and something went wrong. The tank, which was full of 12 tons of Chardonnay, came down and pushed the press a good 30 or 40 feet. This was at three in the morning; in less than 20 seconds there was 12 tons of fruit on the ground. It was all over the crushing pad and outside on the gravel. I called the owner, he came over, and we all shoveled everything up, and we pressed everything, we separated the juice, and guess what? That was the best Chardonnay that we made that year—with a lot of minerality! [laughing] From the gravel—no kidding!

Rollin Soles, Argyle Winery, Oregon's Willamette Valley: In Oregon, no two vintages are ever remotely the same. One of the worst was 1995, when we got almost tropical rains, most all during vintage, and we had to collapse the entire vintage in five days. That was crazy. I’m still sending boxes of tissues to the interns that worked for me that year. With the ’95, we got Wine Spectator Top 100 for our Chardonnay. The ’95 Riesling—phenomenal—and the ’95 Pinot I just started drinking, and the bloody wine smells just like beautiful rose petals. Go figure!

Marc Perrin, Château Beaucastel and Perrin & Fils, France's Rhône Valley: [In 2002] everything was perfect. The Grenache was going to be perfectly ripe. And then we had rain like I’ve never seen in my life. I don’t remember the exact figures, but we had the equivalent of six months of rain in one day or something like that. So it was really flooded, and I’ve never seen that. So the grapes, there was water everywhere. It was really awful. That’s really the worst memory for us. We didn’t produce any Beaucastel in 2002. We just skipped it.

MaryAnn Worobiec, Robert Taylor and Ben O’Donnell contributed to this report.

Michael Haley
Eugene, OR —  October 4, 2010 9:22am ET
I happened to be driving in the Mosel region during harvest 2000. Coming out of one of the vineyards and down the main road for 4-5 kilometers was a foot-wide swath of grapes. Finally caught up to the tractor and trailer. Poor guy forgot to close the valve at the bottom. Most of his harvest from that field ended up on the highway!

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