Closing Days (In Installments)

The last few weeks have been quite busy and, though much has happened, I have either had little time to post or have come home from work too utterly exhausted to tap my keys in any coherent rhythm.  This also means that there has been some exciting (and taxing work) accomplished in the last week or so.  Thus, because this post is largely retrospective, I am going to break up the following few posts into a summary of the different projects that we have been working on in the last few weeks.  The first involves the racking of the largest (by a factor of 4) set of barrels we have done all summer.

Up to this point (July 4 exactly) all of the racking we had done at the winery had been for the numerous private label wines that Tensley makes (including local health food stores, restaurants and hip hop artists!!  Ya that’s right we make Fergie’s wine 🙂  and July 5 marked the planned date to rack 80 barrels of the poster-child wine for Tensley’s label, a Syrah sourced from a local vineyard called Colson Canyon.  Joey visits the vineyard periodically in the fall, tasting the grapes and giving the vineyard manager instructions on when to pick his (Joey’s) bloc.  The grapes are pressed and fermented in crush bins and then aged in neutral oak over the winter (approximately 9 months) and all sediment and lees are allowed to settle out.  The resulting wine is an incredibly big, fruity, tannic, deliciously round Rhône style red that annually sells like hot-cakes and receives 90+ scores from Robert Parker and the like.  So the Tuesday after independence day was set aside to rack all of the wine to a rented tanker truck which would allow all the separate barrels to form one blend.  The barrels were to be cleaned and stacked in the winery, and filled the following day as the wine sat snugly overnight in the tank.

Trouble reared its head on Monday when the tanker truck that arrived.  Our 80 barrel lot summed to a total of 4800 gallons of wine.  While the tanker truck had a total capacity of 6500 gallons, its tank was divided into two isolated compartments (one holding 3000 gallons and the other 3500 gallons).  Thus, as neither compartment was large enough to accommodate all the barreled wine, we could not blend all the barrels into a continuous lot using the truck’s tank.  Such blending was essential as the wine in each barrel had slight yet noticeable differences derived from slightly different picking days and vineyard lots. Thus the racking was delayed so that we could devise a plan to connect two of our larger steel tanks with a complex rig of hoses, pumps, and T-cusps so that all the wine would blend as it was siphoned from the barrels.

The necessity for multiple racking days, and a leaky barrel that caused a mold invasion, forced the racking job to be postponed until the following Tuesday, when it went off without a hitch.  I have to admit that I worked harder that day than I think I ever have.  Our team of 3 (Zach, me, and a part time employee named Brad) arrived at the winery at 5:45 AM (the blessings of early morning work quickly becomes apparent when one works outdoors in a climate where it is typically 90+ degrees by 11 AM).  The process of racking, as described in an earlier post, is taxing enough when it is not occurring at the break of dawn, and this was no exception.  One person (Zach) coordinated moving barrels into and out of the winery so that there were barrels constantly available to be racked as the crush pad was not large enough to accommodate all the barrels at once time. One man (Brad) was in charge of monitoring the racking hose to make sure that little to no air was sucked into the line when a barrel was emptied.  The last man (me) had the job of flipping and draining the lees from the barrel, washing the inside, steaming it in and out, re-draining it and washing it a second time (though I cannot take credit for all the grunt work as it was a very collaborative and cordial effort, complete with tank-tops, booming pop music, frequent water dousing, and that feeling of complete and utter exhaustion and accomplishment that comes after a day of hard work). After 9 hours of continuous racking, with 45 minutes for lunch, I felt both high and completely ground-down. If I had to describe the best, most enlightening and fulfilling aspect of this summer internship it would have to be the feeling of accomplishment, weariness and productivity that comes after a day of hard work has zipped by.  Those days when, even though you are cutting your hands scrubbing and flipping barrels, 7 hours have past and you didn’t even notice; the days when you get home and just have to lay prone for a half hour or so in the sun to recover; when you can look back and say “See! this is what I did today!”  For a person like me who has always been school oriented, never quite challenged to work physically and continuously without breaking down or moaning; the best days were days like these that broke you down and built you up all at once.

All in all the wine came out great. Everything blended, only a few leaky barrels had to be replaced, and all of the wine and barrels were safely inside the winery before the scorching heat of 3 PM.  The next day was dedicated to the far easier task of filling each barrel (I sat on top of the racks playing solitaire on my phone for 6 hours as each barrel filled). Moral of this story: Even when you may be the weakest link physically or mentally, if you put your heart into your endeavors, focus on challenging your own boundaries instead of living up to the standards of others, you can find beauty and harmony in the most mundane of tasks.  The business version: people notice you on the job when you spend more time working and less time bitching!

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