It took nearly six months for my century-old vine to incubate a crop of zinfandel grapes. Yet when harvest time finally arrived, two men spent less than a minute collecting it.
They ducked under the canopy, reaching for grapes with one hand and severing them with a hooked knife held in the other hand. The fruit fell so quickly that by the time I dropped on one knee to watch only a few clumps were left. Within seconds the men had moved on to the next vine, working their way down the row.
On the last sunny day before a week that promised rain, the race was on to harvest the thin-skinned fruit still hanging in the Kunde family's 128-year-old Shaw Vineyard. Workers raced across the vineyard, methodically searching for grape clusters, severing them with one quick slice and dropping them into small gray tubs that, once filled, were emptied into larger bins.
After months of watching my plant come to life, blossom and bear fruit, I had come to think of it as a type of childbirth, and certainly the final weeks before harvest were as tense as those before labor begins.
Cool summer temperatures had delayed the ripening, and early fall rains threatened to arrive before the grapes had reached their peak. As is true with all old zins, some grapes had shriveled by the time the rest were in top shape. The call was finally made on Thursday. Crews would arrive at 7 the next morning and would harvest all the old vineyards before rains came on Monday. The race was on.
A thin layer of fog blocked the sun when I arrived at 7:30, but I could hear them across the river. The hum of a tractor, commands in Spanish, a little singing and then the clatter of men climbing into pickup beds. They drove past in a convoy, up the rutted road to the top of the Shaw vineyard.
Armed with gray plastic bins and picking knives, the men fanned out on the hillside, followed by a tractor pulling two large bins that quickly filled up with grapes, leaves and stems.
The pickers ran from one row to the next, emptying their bins on the run. By 9 they were back at the creek and the ancient zins were on their way to the winery.
After a bite to eat and a cold beverage, the men crawled back into the pickup trucks and rode up and over the hill they had just traversed on foot.
Meanwhile, trailers filled with the fruit waited alongside the winery for their turn in the press.
Posted by Linda Castrone at 11:53 AM