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The Cast And Crew

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!

Return Of The Rat

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!


Harvest 2010 Begins!

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.