Small businesses always present owners with unique challenges, and a small winery is certainly no exception to that rule. All that fancy equipment that you see at the larger wineries is not always an option for a smaller place. You start out with the items that are essential to operate, and then year after year you add on as you are able. The flip-side of the coin is that you have to put a little more effort into the process to compensate for the equipment that you lack. Yesterday I got my first taste of this.
There’s really not much that can be said about this year, other than it has been another weird one. Like last year, summer got off to a later than normal start. We did get some heat during the summer here in Eastern Washington, but it was for a relatively short amount of time, and didn’t seem as intense as I understand to be typical. The weather has recently taken a drastic plunge, sending temperatures beneath the freezing point during the nights. Because of the uncharacteristic summer, all of the grapes are coming in somewhere in the neighborhood of 2-3 weeks later than normal. With the freezing temperatures starting up, there is a mad dash to get the grapes in as quickly as possible to avoid any damage to the fruit. This makes for some fun times for winemakers who are going to have a somewhat compressed timeline for making wine.
Yesterday we got in the first fruit since I started working with Thomas O’Neil Cellars. We received a mid-afternoon delivery of about a ton of Viognier grapes from Art Den Hoed Vineyard. Under ideal conditions, those grapes would be dumped directly from the bin into a chute that would funnel the fruit onto a sorting table, which would them feed into the press. This is where the challenge of being a small winery comes into play. We don’t have a sorting table. We don’t have a chute. That means that all of the sorting and feeding into the sheet has to be done by hand. This is a very time consuming process, comprised of taking the grapes out of the bin, putting them into a small bucket, and then dumping the bucket into the press. It’s also hard work, bending over the sides of the bin as you work your way to the bottom.
Despite, or possibly because of, the difficulty of the work, there is something intensely satisfying about hearing the juice from the grapes dripping down beneath the press, and watching as that juice is pumped into the nearby tank. It is the first step in the process that will take that juice and turn it into a thing of beauty. I couldn’t help but think about the time a few months down the road when we will be tasting the 2011 vintage of our Viognier, and I will be able to look back and know that some of my effort went into making that wine. I’m sure that some of this feeling is because I’m still new to working with wine, and will probably wear off as I have been working at the winery longer, but for now I am just going to enjoy it.