The reference in the article title to the crew is what you were thinking it is. The cast probably isn't. I broke my hand last Thursday falling off of my bicycle. Nothing glamorous - just a random accident. A pear was involved. I flew headfirst over the handle bars and managed to catch myself before my head hit the pavement. I saved my skull but I fractured the fifth metacarpal on my left hand. In case you're not sure where you might find a metacarpal, here's a picture:
So I went to the doctor and he put a large misshapen cast on my hand. Nowadays you can get a cast in the color of your choosing. When I mentioned I worked at a winery, the nurse told me that the color selection included Cabernet. I must be in Wine Country. They were able to leave three fingers sticking out of the cast, so now I've been reduced to one hand and one wine tinted claw. It's going to take at least four weeks to heal so I'll pretty much be a crippled rat for all of September. One problem is that I can't get my cast wet and, as you know by now, being drenched comes with the territory. So my dear mother found a solution: A latex arm-length mitten that vacuum seals onto your skin. It's like the Chiller - effective but ugly. The goofy thing is bright blue and when I wear it it looks like I ran into Dr. Frankenstein and he took it upon himself to replace my arm with that of a Smurf's (an obese Smurf that underwent a botched liposuction).
I could tell you how disspointed I am or how difficult it's going to be. But I'm not going to do that. I'm going to keep on working and do as much as I possibly can with a smile on my face. When I showed my cast to Robert he gruffly told me to pick up a bottle with my hurt hand. I picked it up with my claw hastily. "See," he said, "You'll be fine."
I'm not going to dwell on it. I'm just going to move on and eventually things will be back to normal. So let's do just that.
It occurred to me that what really makes the winery experience fun has a lot to do with the people you work with and insofar I haven't really provided you, the reader, with a sense of what the crew is like. They're all hard workers but they're also a bunch of characters. Right now my fingers feel like dumb bells and I need to get some rest, but tomorrow I'm going to break it down and describe everybody's stories and their idiosyncrasies. Stay tuned!
Let me introduce you to the people that make Deerfield Ranch Winery run. These hard working people work together as a team to transform a mountain of grapes into an ocean of wine.
You've already met the star of the show. I've talked about Robert in other stories so you probably have a sense of who he is. But if you're a new reader, I'll tell you a little about the winemaker. He's incredibly knowlegeable and skilled in everything that relates to the craft of winemaking. He's surly and quick to smile, a wide sardonic grin framed by his handlebar mustache. He is constantly in motion. He never gets angry when people make mistakes, he just teaches them how to do things correctly. He is laid back, and that is amazing considering the stress of the harvest.
Robert's right hand man is actually a woman. Cecilia, the assistant winemaker, is a very wonderful, very short, and currently very pregnant Argentinian. She has an accent that makes her speech sound lyrical. She is pragmatic, organized, cautious and devoted absolutely to the process of making world class wine. I don't know if it's due to her pregnancy, but she is very maternal and always makes sure the crew is treated well. She's straightforward but not curt, and she is always kind. She's my boss and I am thrilled.
Amanda is our labratory technician. She can be seen walking to and fro with a beaker in her hands, conducting a variety of tests on the wines. She is smart and beautiful, and she narrowly avoids the aloofness that people of a high intelligence sometimes possess. She is a bit of a loner, I think, and her work suits her, but she's also always happy to jump on the bottling line or the sorting table. She cares deeply about Deerfield's wine and is a skilled attendant to the proccess.
The following people are part of my Cellar Rat pack:
Aron is the team leader. He has almost ten years experience as a Cellar Rat and he knows how to do his job. His English isn't perfect but he can appreciate a joke in any language. He loves to laugh but when it's time to work you better get serious or else Aron will give you a tongue lashing. When Cecilia isn't around, he's the man.
Cruz is another player for Team Mexico and also experienced in the trade. His offbeat sense of humour makes everything more fun. I started calling him "Dino" because of his penchant for sneaking up behind me and making a sound that's close to the creatures in Jurassic Park. He's very curious and calm. He and I have become good friends.
Manuel has the best english of our biligual staff, which is a good thing because he likes to teach. He always takes the time to break things down and show less experienced people the ropes. He has made his own wine in the past and while he sometimes has a different idea of the way things should be done, he is very knowlegeable about the science of winemaking. He also comes to work wearing nice dress shirts and at the end of the day, when I'm filthy from head to toe, Manuel inexplicably doesn't have a spot of wine on him.
Ryan is one of the new guys and already a fast friend. He is a true Texan that has fallen in love with California's Wine Country and decided to leave his home to follow his heart. He was a wine distributor in the Dallas area and I think he has a better knowlege of wine than the rest of the Rat Pack. This is his first harvest so he's putting all of the theory into practice and realizing how much you can't find in a book. His true passion for wine shows whenever he talks about it with his characteristic southern drawl. To his chagrin, I've taken to calling him "Tex" but he's a good sport about it.
Salvador is a Mexican American from Phoenix who speaks fluent Spanish. That has allowed him to become very effective because Aron is the one who knows what's going on and he communicates much better in his native tongue. Salvador has made wine at home in the past and loves learning how it's done right and being a part of the process. He's cerebral and observant with a sense of humour that defies description. He's eager to learn and slow to judge but most of all he's complex. It'll be fun getting to know him better.
One of the most interesting additions to the crew would have to be Marianna. She is a Bulgarian woman who speaks very little English and seems to have been transported in time and space from the Old World. She likes to be involved and do things herself. More than once she's snatched something out of my hands so that she could do it. She's never idle. Salvador works with her and takes pleasure in trying to learn the Bulgar's language.
Dean just started this past week and I don't really know him well yet. He seems like a very friendly and laid back kid with a real Santa Cruz air to him.
So maybe now you have a better picture of daily life at the winery and you'll be able to follow the adventure's of not just me but my fellow Rats. Will Salvador even learn Bulgarian? Will Ryan's romance with California culture continue? Will Manuel ever get his shirt dirty??? Find out next time on DeerfieldCellarRat.com
The Cellar Rat is back after a much needed harvest hiatus and I've returned with all of the stories and adventures that transpired during the rainy months that constituted the second half of the harvest. Where we last left our intrepid intern, he was crippled, without the use of his left hand, and relegated to the laboratory to aid the insular Amanda as she dutifully created and catalogued the mountain of data an ever-changing ocean of wine inevitably creates.
If you've been hanging on to the edge of a cliff for the past few months then let me now extend my paw to you: With my hand encased in fiberglass and a recommendation from my doctor that I refrain from doing anything that made strenuous use of it, lest the healing fracture break again, I attempted to pay heed to his costly advice. But our lab technician was deft in her craft and needed little assistance, so after a day following her around like a duckling I soon grew frustrated with my impotence and with increasing confidence I suspected that the pair of eyes staring over her shoulder were becoming more and more bothersome. Amanda was a good sport but I realized that another arrangement would have to made at least until my hand healed and I could return to my duties. Robert suggested that I do some office work for the time being. I probably should have accepted the offer, but I was enthralled with the exciting work at the winery that was only just beginning as the rest of interns arrived and harvest was getting into full swing. Loathe to miss out on the action, as well as peck maddeningly at the keyboard with one hand (partly a reason for the discontinuity in my posts), I decided I would continue work as usual and see how I could fare with one hand tied behind my back. I realized early on that my main enemy would be water. I believe I mentioned earlier that this job tended have the effect on a Cellar Rat of having jumped in a pool with their clothes on. My dear mother, thoughtful person that she is, ordered for me a special cast protector that, in addition to keeping my arm completely dry, had the added effect of making me look like I had the arm of a Smurf. It was a lovely shade of blue and when the air was sucked out it seemed as if I had shrink-wrapped an oversized cooking mitten onto my forearm. Having a soaking wet cast is a horrible condition, but being heckled about the strange appearance of my left arm was even more intolerable. So it was soon discarded and as harvest progressed my hand became quite sore and smelly. But the moral in this story is that I soldiered through it and hardly missed a moment of harvest because of my ill-timed injury. A few weeks and several casts later my hand was tender but healed. The brace I was given to wear for several more weeks also lasted about half a day on the crush pad. But maybe making use of it was the correct therapy because today it feels good as new.
As the coming weeks progressed the crew really began to learn to work as a team and the flow of work became steady and regular. With the wine now at multiple stages of production a daily routine was established, although the amount of work would vary depending on how much fruit we were to crush that day. And indeed the amount of grapes coming in seemed to increase everyday as wary grape-growers tried to harvest their crop before the coming rains that posed a major threat to their precious berries.
Next time I'll be talking about what a typical day at the winery was like with harvest in full swing: With all the fermentation tanks full of grapes at various stages of maceration, grapes being pressed and barreled down, and more grapes coming in to be sorted, all on the same day!
I will be posting at some point every Wednesday, though sometimes in the evening, so you can always be sure to check in every Thursday for the latest from the Cellar Rat. Also don't forget to check out Cellar Rat TV which also airs right here every Friday at 3:00pm. Until next time!
There is much to be done on the crush pad and in the cave before the first grapes show up. The new crew is almost completely assembled. There are some familiar faces and some new ones. Cecelia, the assistant winemaker, is in charge of hiring the crew and this year is definitely a cast of characters. Aaron and Cruz are the year-round cellar staff – they top the barrels, rack them and maintain the sleeping wines during the off-season. But harvest requires much more manpower so joining the team is a couple of veteran cellar rats including Dean, the San Diego surfer, and Ryan, our Texan talent, who has been working for us as Regional Sales Manager since the end of last harvest. Amanda, the lab technician, was due to depart to continue her studies but I suppose the allure of fermenting grapes was too much to resist because she came back to work the harvest. A new addition to the team is a fine young gentleman from Louisiana named Will, who, with his pleasing southern drawl, also brings a lifetime of farming experience. He knows the long hours that harvest requires, regardless of the crop. Even though there won’t be any fruit to crush for several weeks, the rat pack will have plenty of work to keep them busy. As I mentioned at the start of the 2009 harvest, the machinery required for the crush has been sitting idle for the better part of the year and must be sanitized and put in working order. In fact, the first order of business will be to clean the entire cave from top to bottom. Keeping the cave clean during harvest is a difficult task with the constant influx of sticky grapes so starting with a clean slate is crucial. It’s also an opportunity for the newbies to learn the ropes. I spent my first days topping barrels and racking wines which familiarized me with how to use most of the equipment and our sanitization protocols. Before we know it the first of the grapes will be rolling onto the crush pad from vineyards in hotter climates and Harvest 2010 will be underway. Our grapes greatly benefited from the heat last week and have been rapidly undergoing veraison, or the changing colors of the grapes from green to red. In a few of the rows exposed to the sun it’s almost at 90%. Though the grapes are ripening slowly this year, Robert tells me this can actually be a great benefit to the wines. Slow ripening leads to deep and complex flavors, but the trick will be to get them off of the vines before heavy fall rains.