Thursday, October 16, 2008

Driving to Alder Creek Vineyard

I've been getting Syrah and Malbec from the Alder Creek and Windy Ridge vineyards for several years. These vineyards are located just outside of Alderdale, close to the Columbia River in the Horse Heaven Hills Appellation. The road up to the vineyards is narrow and twisty, and typically I arrive there late at night, in the dark, prior to picking the next morning. Under these conditions, the desert vegetation crowding the edges of this last few miles of road takes on an otherworldly, almost aquatic appearance. The headlights of the truck cause the pastel colors of the plants to leap out of the darkness, their reds, greens, blues and yellows bright against the blackness of the night. Their succulent-shaped fans, globes and branches look like nothing so much as a coral reef, absent only the swimming fauna (the animal denizens of this area being more likely to be four-legged). It is easy to pretend I'm Jacques Cousteau, piloting a high-speed submarine through an underwater race course. What was that noise, are we under attack by hammerhead sharks? No, it was just a cattle-fish guard.

The drive home in daylight is much less vivid, the colors of the night washed out into the dusty sun-bleached backdrop of the desert.

Unfortunately this may be my last trip up this road for a while, as these vineyards are being put up for auction and there's no telling if the new owner will be willing to sell the fruit....

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Picking Pinot Gris

Every vineyard is run a little differently. At most places my picking boxes are spread out into the rows beneath the vines, the pickers fill them, and then other workers come behind with a tractor and load the full boxes onto pallets, and from there onto the truck. At Chuck Suggett's Willamette Valley vineyard, the pickers pick into five-gallon buckets, which they then carry to the end of the row (at a run) and dump, receiving a punch on their picking card for each bucket picked, and at the end of the day they are paid by the bucket. On most days they are dumping into half-ton bins, and a lot of the grapes are going to get smooshed anyway, so they're not always very careful. In my case, we spread out yellow picking boxes at the ends of the rows and they dump one bucket per box, in order to keep all the grapes intact until they are crushed at the winery. Last year I observed that some pickers were being less gentle than others in their dumping, so I inquired how to say "carefully" in Spanish. So this year, the same crew chief is explaining to the pickers in rapid-fire Spanish how the system works, and when he's done he turns to me and says "Right??". "Si...con cuidado," I reply, in my very best accent, with D's verging unto TH's. He looks at me like I've just stepped out of a UFO, pauses, and says softly "si, con cuidado!"

The great thing about this picking system is that it allows for many pickers to work simultaneously, and the picking gets done fast. Plus, the vineyard is on a pretty good slope, which I back the truck up, so that when we're loading in the boxes, they will pretty much slide all the way to the front if given a good push, making loading fast and easy.