Saturday, September 6, 2008

They call me Sugar


I suppose in the world of politically correct corporate America, my job during harvest would have a title of traffic coordinator or some thing other equally mundane. Seven harvests ago, when I took on the task of managing this project, we called the scale house the sugar shack because all trucks were initially tested before being sent to the crusher, the people working the shack earned the nickname sugar-shackers. 7 years later, I now just answer to ‘sugar’ and I’ve self-promoted to queen of the shack.

It’s 4:30 in the morning, and my alarm is blaring. Sleepily I drag myself out of bed for another day in harvest. I pull on the standard uniform for my daily duties of short shorts a wine splattered wife beater and the most important item, the Gortex lined tennis shoes for keeping my feet dry all day long. Some people get dressed up for work, I get dressed down. With one eye still closed, I make a judgment call on if it’s a ‘hat day’ or if I can pull my hair into some sort of acceptable. Today I opt for pig tail braids - this is the least of my worries I have 3 games essentially of winery chess being played out in my head simultaneously as I have about 400 tons of fruit coming into the winery today and it’s winner take all.

5am - I arrive at the winery, and begin walking around turning things on. My crush crew is here setting up, and I review the game plan for the day. On paper today doesn’t seem so bad, but there is the margin of ‘reality’ that makes the planned from the actual have such huge variables. Hopping in my golf cart, I head down to the sugar shack where my first few trucks are already lined up. The drivers having gotten here in the middle of the night after their machine picks are sleeping in the cabs, as I quietly approach each truck and softly knock on the door to wake them, and collect their paperwork. I make my way down the line, and start the process of getting each checked in, estimated, evaluated and sampled then return to my fantasy plan trying to stay on target and make the flow efficient. Oops, this block picked out light - tank change. This block picked out heavy, press change. This fruit shouldn’t even be here for another 4 hours - time to juggle the schedule. Shortly after, the trucks are headed to their assigned crush sites and I’m onto my next mission - coffee.

If you are a coffee drinker, then you understand the awesomeness of the first sip of the day. The giddiness you get just opening up the container and grinding the beans. For me during harvest that feeling is magnified a thousand percent. As I wait for the drip to begin, I stand in the doorway of the kitchen looking out at the Mayacamas and watching the sun begin to peek over them. A new day is dawning, and the warm blanket of night time is disappearing, as a cool front seems to push in as the sun rises. The coffee is made, soon truckers and workers file in to grab a cup their cup of Joe, the initial sips act as lubricant for conversation and more planning.

8am - The first round of pressing is well on its way, and a quarter of the days fruit is in process. It’s time for me to sit down and take a look at the forecast for what is on deck next. I grab my Magic 8 ball and ask it if the next round of trucks will be on time, and after 3 responses of ‘concentrate and ask again’ I opt for plan B and call and see how things are going in the vineyards.

9am - the juice trucks arrive to haul juice to the barrel warehouse for barrel fermentation. Seeing the trucks remind me that I need to schedule more for 2 days out, I call the trucking company. How many trucks do I need? How many gallons do I want hauled? It occurs me to the fruit hasn’t even left the vines. I consult Magic 8 ball again, then randomly throw a place holder number out there with a promise of a call first thing tomorrow to firm things up.

9:30am - I have a few minutes of down time. Check my fantasy football team and also my U-pick’em picks for the weekend. Grapes may keep me busy, but football keeps me sane. Return a couple of emails, in-between fielding phone calls and radio info. Revel in the 1 or 2 moments of silence I’m getting, ‘cause I know the next time may not come until tonight when my head hits the pillow. I make toast, and once again sit down to check over the game plan. But both are interrupted by the arrival of more fruit.

10am - There is fruit here, the press isn’t ready yet, because the first load went in heavy and we needed to roll it and get some of the juice out before we finished loading it. *sigh*. The truck will have to wait, at least it’s not too warm out… yet, weather man is predicting over a hundred. I’m standing on the dock looking down into the bins of machine harvest Chardonnay - there is a lizard sitting on top of it staring back at me. I jump down onto the back of the truck to pull him out. He seems happy for the rescue, and I am more than delighted to know that ‘this little extra bit of protein’ didn’t make it into the hopper.

11am - After countless times of sitting on my cell phone, I’ve removed it from my back pocket and have now I’ve misplaced it, and the F-bomb seems to be the only word to come out of my mouth. It pre-curses everything I say and think. I’m retracing my last 5000 steps through the winery looking for it. My backtracking takes me back to the shack, and I pass the line of truckers waiting to dump. One is being visited by his wife and their new baby. He’s dancing around and bouncing the child making the little boy squeal. All of them are laughing, this is one of the ‘aww’ moments I’m happy to be privy to. Suddenly my missing phone isn’t such a priority, partly because my heart has been warmed, and partly because there is a truck rolling up to the scale.

12pm - My 3:30 fruit has arrived 4 hours early and the driver has been told to espera in la sombra. (wait in the shade) there is a rumor going around that someone is going to pick up burritos and orders are flying across the radio. Food is definitely a bright spot in my crush horizon. I pass by the driver minutes later, and see that he is doing just that. He’s found himself a comfy spot laying on the cement under the trailers with his book. For a moment, I am jealous. Being horizontal sounds so delightful.

1pm - My phone hasn’t stopped ringing since I’ve found it. Changes in the game plan, people wanting to know the forecast for tomorrow, missing tags. I’ve now lost my to-do list, and have resorted to writing it on a sticky note that I’m shoving in my bra. But before I can get to any thing on my to-do list, one of the presses has a stuck door. Houston, we have a problem. My truck flow has now ground to a halt.

2pm - I still haven’t seen the fruition of the burrito order and I’m beginning to become antsy. Nothing sounds better to me right now than a big, warm tortilla filled with al pastor, rice and beans, well except maybe for a shower and a nap. The sun is blazing down and the temp has crawled into the upper 90’s. I have a grower here to pick some tags up. He’s an old timer. He’s telling me about the vineyard, and what he thinks is going on, I nod and he tells me about the 80 something year old truck driver he’s secured to bring the grapes in for him tomorrow. He asks questions about my life to get caught up from the previous years visit and we sit and chat for a while. I am amazed that he remembers lil ‘ol me in the detail that he seems to. I inquire about his life happenings, which come down to how much the industry has changed in his years of farming. I love hearing this. It’s stories like his that remind me my uncles working the fields and of my great-grandfather, planting our family vineyard 100+ years ago.

3pm - Food has arrived. I’m happy. I’m also full and lethargic after wolfing down the entire burrito in what felt like 3 bites. There is a lull waiting for presses to open and be dumped. I call a friend in New Orleans, who has just weathered Hurricane Gustav to make sure he’s ok, and try to center my mind around something other than grapes but our conversation is cut short by inquiries of if I know if the D254 yeast was delivered or not, and a phone call asking if I can do a courtesy weigh for another winery, cause their scale is down. Yes and yes. Next, I’m taking to the courtesy weigh driver, I’m looking at the fruit. Wow, I think to myself, this stuff is sunburned. I hope my fruit doesn’t come in looking like that and try to purge the thought from my mind. I have enough to figure out.

5pm - It’s hot out. Like, so hot that if I leave my golf cart sitting in the sun for a minute, the faux leather seat burns my legs when I try to get back in. Attempting to drive said cart, while not sitting down looks like a circus trick. Oh well, at least I’m amusing to someone. With all the confusion of earlier, the day has now righted itself. We aren’t exactly on track per our game plan, but things could certainly be worse. There are rumors spreading of pizza because we plan to crush late into the evening. Much like Pavlov’s theory, food proves to be great incentive for people too.

6pm - Telling a group of people that pizza has arrived is almost as fun to watch as the paparazzi chase Britney Spears. The out of county fruit has arrived 3 hours early, and it happens to be the truck driver’s first day on the job. Before even seeing it, I ask him what he is hauling. “grapes.” he says. “damn that’s too bad, we are only accepting tomatoes here.” I say. He looks at me puzzled, my joke is clearly lost on him. I don’t have the heart to tell him right off the bat that after driving for 3 hours, he now has to wait for 3 more, so I break it to him first that there is pizza and couches in the break room, and that someone will be in to get him when the press is open. Then I make mental notes of all the things he could possibly side swipe in his set of doubles and see if anyone wants to take bets with me on what is the first thing to get hit.

9pm- We are repressing a load, cause we can’t get our yields. We set the press to half a bar, and the juice starts to flow a little faster. This may not be a lost cause, and it’s going to save us another press cycle. A truck is still waiting to fill that press after it’s been emptied. I’m going on 16 hours here, and there still isn’t an end it sight. My only reprieve is that since tomorrow is Saturday, we don’t start crushing until 7am. Yippee, an extra hour of sleep, which I’ll need since I’m not leaving here any time soon. The only upside to all of this, is that I don’t have to stay until the end of the press load tonight.

10:30pm - My last truck is weighing out. The driver speaks only Spanish, and my brain is tired. I rely on what little thought process I have left, and muddle through our conversation. I have very few pleasantries left. All I can think about, is getting this last tag finished, and running my reports of the evening so I can go home and try to salvage what little time I will have until it’s time to come back into work. Here, I haven’t even left yet, and I’m already planning on returning. Oh sleep please come soon.

11pm - I crawl in my car to drive home. I drive in silence, my body can’t take more noise, more voices -- more anything.

It’s 12:30 and I’m at home. My mind won’t shut off. I’ve showered, I’ve had my ice cream sand-which and I’m laying in bed thinking about all the happenings of the day. I see the clock tick minutes away into the night as I try to quiet my restless mind. It’s not happening. I can’t just lay here as much as I’d like to. I head to my dining room table, there laid out across the table is my coloring poster and assorted markers. I sit down and pick up a green marker and begin to outline leaves on the poster of wildflowers. As I fill the leaves in, my mind begins to re-index itself, like a computer on night de-frag. Finishing my 4th leaf, my eyes begin to become heavy, my mind has slowed down to a snails crawl and my body and brain both agree it’s time for bed. After all I have to get up in a few hours, and do this all over again.


2 comments:

our girl said...

last comment for the day, promise. i'm a production manager for my graphics shop and if you sub graphics for everytime you mention grapes, its the same story.

i'm glad we are still a start up winery and i'm working in hundreds of pounds for right now...

samantha said...

hahaha - yes. I'm sure you could sub $'s and put it in the eyes of an accountant.