The Harvest - Day 1, Italy (Lombardia Region)

I'm not necessarily a stranger to working with my hands. I grew up in a family of extremely handy people (my father especially), spent the better part of my childhood mowing lawns, and spent some time working on a water main / excavation crew. When I stepped into the vineyard this morning, I knew what to expect. I planned to keep my head down, work hard, and smile if invited, but not too much. Especially in a place where nobody can understand me, smiling too much could make me seem like a real weirdo. I'd have to prove that I'm a hard worker (but not too hard), that I'm friendly (but not too friendly), and, most of all, that I don't kiss up too much. Nobody likes a new guy that comes onto the scene trying to kiss everyone's butt. These are the workplace undertones that I've experienced (and admittedly expressed, on occassion), especially in many jobs that require manual labor.

I was pleasantly surprised as I began working today. The 12 pickers operated as a team from beginning to end. We harvested six rows of Cabernet Sauvignon at a time, two of us working each row vis-a-vis, filling crates that hold approximately 20 kilograms of grapes (each of these will produce about 20 bottles of wine). Everyone sang, laughed, smiled, and helped those who had not finished their row so that we would all finish our rows together. I even received an Italian lesson from Morena, the gal working across from me. While her lesson consisted of phrases for practical use, the others made sure to teach me all the "other" Italian words I would need for sporting events or the disco this weekend. Jean Francois ("JF"), who manages the operation (which includes 50 acres of vines, a beautiful winery and brand new cellar, and the sales and distribution), could be one of the nicest people I've ever met. The staff at the vineyard seem to love him. He spent a lot of time today introducing me to everyone, showing me around, explaining the steps of the winemaking process, and answering the hundreds of questions I threw at him. JF's 8, 5 and 3 year-old children (Benoit, Jane and Thomas) came out and helped us after school.

When we finished harvesting for the day, a few of us loaded the crates of grapes onto a trailer, then hauled them to the winery where we ran them through a machine to separate the stems / leaves from the grapes. From the separator, the grapes were sent to a stainless steel storage silo where they will remain for 10 - 14 days for fermentation. A small amount of sulfite was added, which will kill most of the unwanted natural yeasts and preserve the few that are favorable.

I love it here. I love working with my hands, I love the country, I love the people I'm working with and I love the passion that winemakers have for the process. When I jokingly compared one of JF's wines to Franzia, the smile I thought a fixture on his face quickly disappeared like my glass of spumante following the day's work.

There's a donkey that lives next to the house where I sleep. He's louder than hell (he's making deafening "hee-haw" noises as I type), but he's entertaining. I'll take him a carrot and try to make friends tomorrow.

I can't cook anything, but I'll have to try...I can't eat another ham and cheese sandwich - with the exception of a few pizzas, ham and cheese is all I've eaten for a few weeks now. Tomorrow I will split my day between the cellar and the field. JF thinks I'll grow tired of the field work, but I don't think so.

Current 5k time = 23:40
Last Book Read = The Old Man and the Sea


Allen Penn said…
Morgan - This is great stuff man. The stories and pictures are fantastic (and slightly depressing as I sit in my cubicle, haha). Keep it coming. Also, what's the plan with the 5K time?
Brandon said…
Allen - Thanks man. I am just realizing that I can post back...I thought I'd try to break 20:00 minutes by the time the year is over. Modest goal, but I'm not really on a plan..just expecting to be in better shape. I have a post coming of a 1-day 8,000 foot climb I did last week and almost died..haha. Should be up in the next day or so. Thanks a lot for reading man.