My name is Addison Rex and I am a Cellar Rat: Located at the bottom of the winery food chain. But just like the food chain of Mother Nature, us little guys are indispensable. Most people love to romanticise winemaking but the fact is that a lot of it is dirty, sticky, and repetitive. Somebody has to do the tough jobs of cleaning the barrels and tanks, doing all of the daily tasks that a quality wine requires. And all of that hard work that goes into making a bottle of wine is, at the end of the day, what really gives a wine its character.
A little bit about me: I've always grown up with wine on the table. Over time I developed, like so many others, a passion for the craft, culture and of course, wine itself. After high school I was accepted into California Polytechnic University where I choose a concentration in Oenology in their Wine and Viticulture major program. Several years later at Easter dinner, Robert Rex, master winemaker, founder of Deerfield Ranch Winery and my uncle, leaned across the table and asked: "So when are you going to come learn how to make wine from me?" And so, four months later here I am: About to embark on what I hope to be a successful career as a winemaker. I've got a lot to learn but I am lucky to have the opportunity to learn from the very best. So join me as I join the crew of Deerfield and set out to learn everything there is to know about making world-class wine. Salut!
Even a Cellar Rat needs a place to live. For the harvest season I'm going to be living on the winery! That'll be great because winemaking requires you to start early. Robert Rex starts his day at 4 a.m. There are a couple of trailers available for interns to stay in during the crush season but I thought it would be more fun if I built a big Camp Curry style tent instead. I'm finding out that it's not as easy as I thought it would be though. The tent I bought is 14 feet by 16 feet so I'm building a wood platform of the same size. That's almost 250 square feet! It won't be finished before I start work on August 3rd so it's going to be a bit of a challenge to get it done while learning the ropes at the winery. Check out the photo gallery for pictures of it's construction. I salvaged lumber from the winery that wasn't being used so the construction has proved to be very difficult because a lot of the wood is twisted and doesn't span long enough... Still it's going to be the perfect rat nest when it's finished!
My tent came today! Hooray! The material is much nicer then I expected - it's going to look really cool! So I've been chipping away at it and I'm almost done with floor. My work day starts at 7am and ends at 3:30pm, and after work everyday I've been hammering down the redwood floor. Which, by the way, is salvaged from a fence. But I should be able to finish tomorrow and then I need to sand and oil. After that the tent is ready to be put up and then I can move all my stuff in. I've been living in a Deerfield trailer in the meantime which I have to say is less than enjoyable... I can't wait until my rat nest is done!
I finished my tent today!!! I sanded and oiled the deck and I gotta say: The old redwood fence turned out to be quite a luxurious floor. Only one problem (and it's a big problem): There's a giant oak limb running directly through part of the tent. Uh-Oh. My father and I tried to come up with a variety of solutions and finally I just climbed the tree and muscled the frame of the tent around tree. It kind of had the desired effect as the frame was now complete. Except that the beautifully square frame that we tried so hard to build became as my dad says "caty-wompus" (I'm not sure that's how you spell that). So know I have to choose between the lesser of two evils: A skewed frame or an incomplete one? Hmmm....
More pictures to come!
I moved into my tent! Hooray! Sunday, I loaded up Deerfield's pick-up truck Beverly Hillbillies style: four chairs, table, trunk, dresser, La-Z-Boy, couch, 46" TV, computer, ottoman, tea cart, microwave, refrigerator, four nightstands, 2 lamps and all of my clothes. It was amazing we got it all on there. We got a late start and by the time we got back up to the winery it was after dark. So I was busy unloading all my earthly possesions until eleven at night. My parents helped and I have to say: they were definitely troopers. When I got up for work at six thirty the next day my entire room was already in order. It looks amazing! Pictures to come!
I also figured out a solution to the oak limb problem. I'm going to a muffler shop tomorrow and having them bend me a piece of metal. Hopefully it won't cost me a limb. yuk yuk yuk...
There's still plenty of stuff to do though. I need to build steps and run proper electricity up the hill. Robert thinks I should lay PVC pipe for well water. I've been working on it every day but by the time I'm done it's going to be time for me to move out.
Whew... What a day! It's 11:00 and I can barely move my fingers to type this. I have a lot to report on my encouraging and exhausting first day, but it'll have to wait until tomorrow. Also - New pictures of the Camp Deerfield project and photos of my first day. Stay tuned!
Okay, It's 11:30 this time but as promised I'll tell you about my first day on the job. I also posted all of the photos from yesterday and today as well as more progress on Camp Deerfield. It took three hours, three computers, and more than a little ingenuity but they're there to see so enjoy!
Well, I had really good first day! The head winemaker has me shadowing one of the crew members for a week while I get the hang of things. Aron is a really nice guy and a really efficient Cellar Rat. He's been working for Deerfield for just over a year now but has many more years of experience in the industry. His English isn't perfect and neither is my Spanish so it was a bit hard to communicate and that makes learning a challenge. I can see that learning Spanish is going to be absolutely requisite on my quest to become a winemaker.
We got two big projects done during the day: In the morning we racked about 15 barrels. Racking is the proccess of moving wine from the barrel to a intermediary tank and then into new or different barrels. The purpose is take the wine off of its lees (remnants of the fermentation process) and later just to improve preserve the fresh berry taste. A lot of people don't know it but the barrel really acts like a filter: Removing some of the bad tastes that doesn't belong in a fine wine. And when that filter is used up wine sitting in the barrel will start to taste funky. The barrels can be washed and reused but not for long (depending on the standards of the winery). We threw away about half of the barrels when we were done. And that's crazy considering they go for about $500 a pop!
In the afternoon we cleaned the ceiling of the huge tent on the crush pad with a pressure washer. Yes. The ceiling. Wineries are probably more sterile than hospitals. I hopped on a forklift so I could get up close and personal with the canvas.
Even though I was completely exhausted, I felt so good at the end of the day. I think it's because I knew it was the first of many eventful and interesting days, and because I knew that finally I'm where I am supposed to be. Anyway... Enough for now. It's gonna be a busy week but before the weekend I'll let you all know how the first week went!
Sandra was nice enough to inform me that the price of barrels has increased dramatically since last I worked at the winery. Barrels now run from $800 to $1200! Ouch!
Cleanliness is definitely the name of the game. In preparation for the harvet every single piece of equipment large and small has to be thoroughly sterilized. That means washing every square inch of everything not bolted down in the winery not just once, but three times (and in some cases four). For the large pieces of machinery like the press and the sorting table I first pressure wash the contraption, then I take a scrub brush and go over every nook and cranny with "proxy", which is the non-toxic industrial cleaning agent that is standard to the industry, and then I go over everything again but this time using citric acid in order to neutralize the proxy. Then I finish it off with another rinse with water. Phew. Some of the equipment we use like the pumps must be cleaned several times a day - every time they are used for a different wine.
This week we cleaned all of the machinery used during the harvest. That includes: The de-stemmer, which de-stems; The press, which squishes the grapes; The mass pump, which bursts grapes thats skin is too tough to pop naturally during fermentation (like Cabernet); The dumper, which dumps grapes on to the sorting table; The sorting table, which is a big conveyor belt; The shaker, which separates unripe grapes.
Also we tested each machine to make sure that they are in proper working order so that we can fix them before cunch time. Can you imagine how disastrous it would be if you have 100 tons of grapes sitting on the crush pad, melting in the sun, and try to turn on the press and nothing happens? That's what happened today. Not the whole grape fiasco (harvest isn't for another month at least) but when we tried to start the press, nothing happened. In fact, half of the machinery didn't work. That's because it's only used for a short period during the year and all of the equipment sits idle. So we called Robert and he came and got three out of four of them back up and running, including the press! The highlight of my day was helping my uncle repair the motor. All that it needed was for the parts to be banged apart that had been rusted together. And it reinforced a lesson I learned quite a while ago: A good winemaker is a good mechanic. And a good electrician... And a good chemist... And a good carpenter... And a good botanist... A good winemaker has to be a jack-of-all-trades. So I guess I'll have to pick up the skills as I go. Hey, I'm working on the carpentry. I've almost finished my deck. Tomorrow we're going to filter a Syrah Cuvee. More to come...
On Friday, after Robert and I got the big grape press working again, it was time for it to be scrubbed. So knowing what the job ahead of me entailed, I changed out of my work clothes and put on a pair of swim trunks. Armed with my trusty pressure washer, I hopped inside the stainless steel barrel. Moments later I was soaking wet and covered in nine months worth of grime. That was when I made a startling discovery: My co-worker's valiant efforts to dislodge a hornets' nest earlier in the week had failed and I was now trapped in a metal tube with a hive of insects that were particularly displeased to have their home invaded for the second time in one week. Quickly, I made a bold decision. I decided to shamelessly abandon my post with haste and regroup. I exited the press for fear of the stingers and went off in search of a weapon to take care of the yellow jackets once and for all. Less than a minute later I returned to the press armed with a bright yellow can of bug spray. Before the poor creatures knew what was happening they were already in their death throes. I carefully disposed of the nest and continued with my not-so-delicate task of the press. Fifteen very wet minutes went by and, as I was doing my best to remove an entrenched bit of squished grapes, a lone bee, whom I presume had been off foraging at the time of the attack, returned and found his home had disappeared. I can imagine that he saw the intruder (me) and the absence of his nest and put two and two together. And so a protracted battle ensued. The bee would hover menacingly as I would yank the nozzle of my pressure washer in his direction, only to zoom off just as I pulled the trigger. The close quarters of the tank made the formidable water gun unwieldy however, and it was with great difficulty that I finally caught my nemesis in my sights and blasted him from the air with a powerful jet of water. Scanning the horizon, I saw no sign of the bee. But little did I know that he was lying in wait. I was unable to be sure that I had won but after several minutes I went back to my chore. I am sure that he was waiting for me to lower my guard because just as I became confident that I had defeated my foe, he seized that moment to strike again. He ambushed me at the bottom of the press, buzzing furious circles around my head. And so to my chagrin, I retreated. Maybe, I thought, I will clean the outside of the press first. The workday ended before I finished washing the outside. I am going to continue the task on Wednesday. Until then, I'm quite certain that my adversary is biding his time, buzzing a self-satisfied buzz.
Tomorrow: On The Assembly Line In The Bottling Truck.