When my kids were younger, we must have watched the Disney movie “The Lion King” at least 100 times. The classic tale has since been remade as a Broadway musical. The signature song is “The Circle of Life.” Now, the Amador County foothills don’t have a lot in common with the African savannah, but the “Circle of Life” plays out in the vineyards and wineries of Amador just as surely as it does on the Serengeti.
That’s one of the (many) appealing things about wine. Each year, each varietal, each vineyard is different, but just as certainly as the sun rises and sets, the “circle of life” is present among the vines. While there is comfort in the regularity of the seasons, now, during the harvest and crush there is also the usual angst of trying to get 20 things done at the same time.
Deciding when to pick is an individual decision for each vineyard based on the sugar content of the grapes, mainly, but several other factors also come into play. And the truth is, winemakers and growers also have to deal with the purely practical variables like, are the picking crews available when you need them? Is there capacity to process the grapes and manage the juice after crush?
As the harvest ramps up and the “crush” becomes a literal term, Amador County is at its most vibrant. The grape clusters hang heavy on the vines. The leaves are showing a touch of fall color and the picking crews are out early to beat the afternoon heat. Trucks rumble along the narrow roads bringing tons of fruit to crushers.
And the wineries are alive with activity. Grapes arriving daily, the forklift scurries around moving grapes, juice, and equipment. The crusher runs almost continuously and pumps and hoses direct the juice to fermentation vats. Of course, everything must be cleaned thoroughly, too.
To be very clear, I am not personally involved in the crush, or the intense period of activity. I am comfortable in my niche, pouring Scott Harvey wine at the Old Sugar Mill. But, I have some empathy for Scott, Jana, Mollie, Dom, and the others who are directly involved in the crush. I know they enjoy it, but I also know they are happy when each harvest is done.
There are downtimes, too, in the winery’s circle of life. The middle of winter, when the vines are dormant and most of the winemaking has been done, offers a chance to slow down, relax, sip a bit of a previous year’s work and enjoy the circle of life from a different perspective.
So the next time you open a bottle of Scott Harvey wine, think about the year it was made—the vintage. Think about what you were doing in the fall of that year, as the grapes were being picked, crushed, and processed into the bottle you are about to open. Place the bottle into its own arc in the circle of your life, and enjoy.
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