Every year between late August and early November, Santa Ynez briefly becomes a flurry of activity, as workers descend upon vineyards across the valley to bring in the harvest. For this mercifully brief period of time, all the winemakers across the valley are united by their shared panic, as the fruits of their labor come to fruition. In a very tangible way, the valley has been building to this moment for months, like a volcano ready to erupt. When the Brix are right, before the acid levels begin to subside, the perfectly ripened grapes are swept off the vine in a tidal wave of activity that resembles something between a finely tuned orchestra and a pre-teen garage band. It’s during harvest, in the midst of all the chaos, that relationships are born and friendships are forged. What binds people more effectively than shared trauma?
Maybe team lunch. That’s not meant to be trite, I’m serious. After working from well before sun up to past noon, many volunteer pickers (myself included) would murder for a turkey sandwich. Fortunately, harvest lunch is rarely so pedestrian. Many seasoned winemakers, recognizing the value of their volunteer workforce and seeking to engender as much goodwill in these folks as possible in the hopes that they might call on their friends and neighbors next year, spare no expense. Lunch is often catered and accompanied by wines from past harvests. It’s an opportunity for everyone involved to celebrate the days work and reminisce about harvests past. Their work done, the entire group releases a deep collective exhale as the years labor reaches its spiritual conclusion. From here on out it will be in the hands of the winemaker to mold and shape the grapes into the beautiful wine they will become.
Harvest is the proverbial high water mark each year for wine communities like the Santa Ynez Valley. This sleepy agricultural town, populated by Los Angeles expats is a tight knit community. Never more so however than when everyone comes together to bring in a harvest. I love the sense of camaraderie. It’s what I missed most during my 2 year stint in Orange County. It’s an environment where friends come to your aid because they know you’d do the same in a heartbeat. That’s the type of community I want to live in. That’s the type of community I work for.
Harvest, as I’ve already said, marks the end of one process (growth) but it also marks the beginning of something new. Transitionary moments like that are important opportunities for us to look back and reflect on where we’ve been, what we’ve accomplished and how we’ve grown. So, one more growing season in the books. We’re a little older, a little fatter, a little more grey around the temples and a little happier.
Who taught me to appreciate the little things. I’m doing my best. I hope you’re proud.