Saturday, September 8, 2012


Remember the first time you ever stayed up past midnight?

The day started off early. I was out of the house by six, fueled by a cup of oil-thick stovetop espresso made pleasant with ample sugar and half and half. Destination: Keller Estate, also called La Cruz Vineyard. The midnight pick of our 114 clone Pinot Noir was well finished and I was headed down to make sure the fruit got loaded on the truck without fail and collect grape samples from a few other vineyard blocks of Pinot Noir. I cruised down the 101 just before rush hour hit and made my way out some country roads to the ostentatious landscape. The fog in the air was heavy and the temperature cool as the winds started clearing the sky and the sunrise signaled another day of harvest.

Fast forward a couple hours, back in Santa Rosa, to the grapes arriving at the winery stacked in giant plastic bins on the back of the flatbed. Bob, the trucker, was happy to deliver. We weighed the valuable freight and manned the sorting line. Today we would be making some very fine rosé. Half the grapes were sorted ‘whole cluster’ and dumped into the press; the juice squeezed out over a two-hour process, aromatic dark pink nectar reminiscent of strawberries and cinnamon with just enough acidity to tickle the tongue. The other half, crushed and de-stemmed, put to tank to soak for 12 hours and leech some color from the thin purple skins. This latter batch would be why tonight I had a flashback to the first time I stayed up past midnight.

I don’t remember too many details, but the image is vivid in my mind: sitting in the den in my pajamas, maybe age six, with some sparkling grape juice in hand nestled up to the television with family as we awaited the countdown to the ball drop on a new year.  I don’t know what was cooler, sipping bubbly like the adults, seeing the new year’s broadcast, or being able to be badass enough to be up past midnight.

During harvest being up past 12am is not only typical, it’s pretty much certain. Added to morning starts often before sunrise and regular recreation post workday, sleep becomes an afterthought. With the fact that the grapes were not processed until after 9am and needed to sit for 12 hours so the juice would have contact with  skins, the time to commence the second pressing  needed to be after 9pm. A two hour press cycle and a cleanup time of an hour MINIMUM meant I was, today, at the winery until just after midnight. Luckily I had my boss and another guy there to help, with Funkadelic blaring and enough Lagunitas to make a guy happy. As we were finishing up, my feet soaked through my boots, arms sticky with juice and hair matted down underneath a beanie from an awkward sensation of sweating in the cool autumn night, I carried a clean hose to the drying rack and laughed to myself…
Remember the first time you ever stayed up past midnight?