Sunday, October 4, 2009

Harvest Epiphany

Here’s some advice: If you ever get a late night tweet from Dr. David Horowitz, Marketing Professor at Sonoma State University, inviting you to participate in a “fun, fun, fun” grape harvest be very careful before you reply in the affirmative. I did say "Yes" and the next thing I know, Dr. Dave was at my door at 5:00am to whisk me off to an undisclosed vineyard to pick Pinot Noir grapes. As instructed, I brought water, gloves, clippers, hat, sunscreen, and my own 5-gallon bucket.

The vineyard was shrouded in fog when we arrived and I could hear the soft muffled “flump” of the grapes being tossed into buckets between the vines. The cool damp air smelled like cotton candy. We got a quick tutorial on what to look for in the grapes. Clean full clusters--good. Moldy, mostly raisins, or bird pecked clusters-- not so good. Then we were set loose to start harvesting. Oh the thrill of it all. For the first two hours I found it rather meditative and relaxing. (Probably due to the fact I was not yet awake.)

By the third hour the thrill of it all began to wear off and I was in serious need of more than water. But being around all those grapes was not calling me to have wine. Beer was the siren song in my head. Strange thing that.

By the fourth hour I was starting to wonder if Dr. Dave even knew what the word fun meant since he used it so liberally to entice me to the harvest. But he is Marketing Professor after all, so it’s all part of the con job. If something is called fun more than once, it probably means you are in for some hard labor. To maintain my focus and waning energy I tried to imagine I was in Spain or Chile or Italy paying for the experience. This is just the type of activity people with more money than sense would pay dearly for. Would I pay $5000 for the chance to pick grapes in France and stay in a Relais & Chateau property like this? I just might. Of course we gringos are not very good at sustained labor. Our pasty white skin burns quickly and our pudgy hands callous fast and we never shut-up or stop complaining. We like the idea of hard work way more than the doing of it. But we jump at the chance to participate in something authentic and briefly don the mask of one who is no stranger to manual labor. Then afterward we like to bask in the afterglow of a job well done while we get pampered at the Spa.

By the fifth hour, the fog was long gone, the sun directly overhead, and any illusions I had that harvest work was fun had been burned to a crisp. My hands were cramping from squeezing the clippers, and my fingertips were pruned from my grape juice soaked gloves. My arms ached from lifting the buckets and my feet numb from tripping over the mounds of plowed dirt. I began plotting revenge schemes in my head to get back at Dr. Dave for getting me into this chain gang.

Then right about the time I was about to lose all my will to carry on I had an epiphany of sorts or perhaps it was a minor sun stroke, but I realized that I am very much like the Pinot Grape itself— fair, thin-skinned and weather sensitive. And with the sun directly overhead, I too was close to being crushed. Yet despite my whining, I have to admit I did manage to have some fun. Plus I learned a few very important things along the way:

1. I am the perfect height for picking grapes. 5’1” is the magic metric if you want to avoid breaking your back bending over to reach the grapes.

2. The joy of harvest decreases exponentially with the declination of the sun. It’s all fun and games till the fog burns off.

3. The professional grape harvesters are amazing to watch, poetry in motion with speed and efficiency. {The four professional Mexican laborers picked more in two hours than all the rest of us did in six hours.}

4. No matter when you ask the grape boss or harvest master (or whatever you call the person in charge) how much longer to go, they will always reply—“Just one more bin to go. Keep picking!”

5. Cutting off the finger of a person on the opposite side of the vine from you is considered to be very bad form.

I think my eight hours of grape harvest experience may just last me a lifetime. And here's one more bit of advice in case you get invited to a harvest--Just say "Oh I'd love to, but I can't make it that day." And then run in the other direction.

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