I blame Keanu Reeves and the 1990’s movie, Walk in the Clouds for obliterating any ideas of what it’s really like to grow wine grapes and make wine.
On Sunday I managed to go from boots and jeans in the Merlot vineyard spraying at 6 a.m., to khakis and polo in the tasting room at Anaba Winery at 12 p.m., to Little Black Dress and heels at the SF Chefs Industry After Party in San Francisco at 6 p.m. – all in the span of just 12 hours and much more realistic of the effort and hard work it takes to “BE” in the wine industry.
So, for all of you I’ve come across in recent weeks looking for jobs in the wine industry, I suggest you read on and let me dispel those three nasty myths Keanu is to blame for:
Being a winemaker is glamorous. Being a winemaker means checking vineyards in all conditions at all stages, hauling bins, equipment and fruit that greatly exceeds the “ability to lift and carry 50 pounds” requirement. There’s also the small detail of the 24/7 attention required and paid to fermenting juice, the forklift certification, heavy machinery operators licenses, heavy-duty steel toe boots are often recommended footwear – and these are just a start to the long list of blue-collar work necessary to “BE” in the supposed white-collar job called “winemaker”.
Wine is luxurious. Look beyond the laser label, custom cork, colorful wax enclosure and high-tech website. There, you’ll find a hard-working farmer. The precursor to wine is 12 months of farming. Wine grapes must survive frost, pests, weeds, rain, fungus and countless other variables before making it to the crush pad. The combination of these variables equals the perfect storm or epic vintage, year in and year out. The experience, atmosphere, or company you may keep while drinking the stuff may be termed “luxury” but that’s where it ends as far as we’re concerned.
Wine grapes are dusted with 24K gold. Scantily clad women don’t pick the fruit under a setting sun, nor is the growing process luxurious or glamorous. We start harvesting at 2 a.m. and finish at dawn. It’s cold, wet and dirty. Laborers hurl 50-pound picking boxes toward the bin trailer, up over 10-foot tall grape vine rows. If you don’t duck, they will hit you – referred to over cerveza later that afternoon as a mere casualty of harvest. It takes every vine, every row and a lot of hard work to make that one bottle. And, don’t kid yourself people. Farming is the sexy part, not the winemaking.
Tip of The Farmer’s hat to all you looking for jobs in the wine industry and respectful nod when you get here. We hope you share with us the myths you dispel while you walk in the clouds of the Russian, Alexander, Sonoma or Napa Valleys.
This content appeared in the RPR Reporter August 12, 2010. Image credit: movieposterdb.com