Thursday, April 5, 2012

Hand-Picking Grapes

I had written a blog post about what I thought about hand-picking grapes, how it isn't just about finding bat-like moths amongst the vines, but some internet glib and POOF I've lost it. The wording was just as I wanted (#perfect), the pictures had finally enough wi-fi power to upload (#shocking), but now it's been about two weeks since I've lost it and am still too infuriated to write it again (#sulking). To further exacerbate the situation, on the last day of hand-picking, we all got some food-poisoning-like vomiting-bug that now looking back on it makes me glad it was the last day of hand-picking. The words are lost. The pictures, re-uploaded, are sitting there in the draft story-less without the words. The novelty of the work has dissipated.  

I wanted to portray about what I liked about the handful of times I had hand-picked grapes. Although I definitely wouldn't want to do it for 8 hours a day for the rest of my life, this last sentence would appall my roomie and probably doesn't mean much to anyone who hasn't had such an experience, so let me explain.

I wanted to rationalize that yes, the early morning start is often too cold to comfortably want to get out of bed and yes, the early morning dew on the vines makes wet hands even colder, but the early morning sunrises make the work somewhat reward, and more than anything, tolerable. The crouching fog rises with the warming autumn sun and before I know it I'm grateful for my hat (#thanksSheelagh) and wondering what to do with all the layers I'm wearing. 

Sure-tell sign of spiders lurking in the near vicinity.

I wanted to illustrate how hand-picking is manual labor (#hardworkappreciation) of constant clipping, continuously moving down the row, filling one bucket after another until all of the grape variety is picked. It is repetitive, monotonous, inane work. To some, it may seem as demeaning, inferior work (#MexicansinAmerica #AfganisinAustralia) but when you take a quick break to look up from the work that you are participating in next to the winemaker, across from the owner, down the row from the hired help, along side the four-year-old son (#familyestate), and look down the row of vines you are standing in, you realize that you are part of the vineyard, completely surrounded by the magic that everyone thinks of when they think of wine making (#repeat #appreciation). Wait a second. Let me show you my scars, the cracks in my hands, the cuts, the bruises that I have that will forever remind me of the hard un-magical work that goes into making wine. But, that feeling of being a part of it, the feeling of appreciation, the feeling of equality, the feeling of witnessing beauty in the making, is truly gratifying.

I wanted to share that sometimes hand-picking is about the independence of putting the headphones on and getting lost in your own thoughts while clipping along to the beat, but other times it’s about the parallel companionship as the other person encourages you to keep up the same pace and often helps you with difficultly tangled bunches (#thelittlethings) The time is filled with getting-to-know-you chitter-chatter with a faceless voice on the other side of the vines that keeps you going until the coffee smoke-o (#theimportantthings).

I wanted to embellish upon the fact that hand picking grapes isn’t as easy as just clip clip clip (#skills). There are different ways to grow grapes, which in turn means different ways to approach picking the grapes. By managing the leaf canopy as to affect the way the bunches hang off the vines, determines and depends on numerous factors such as how much shade protection or sun penetration is needed to develop ripeness, promote photosynthesis, and prevent diseases; the desired air circulation; the accessibility of manual labor required for harvesting and pruning; controlling vigor and yields; and the distribution dependent on the climate, weather conditions, and location of the growing site.

I therefore wanted to elaborate that in this sense, since I am not yet accustomed to all the appropriate ways to quickly clip the bunches, I realized that I wouldn’t be very good at being paid per picking (#Tomatoland). Apparently there is a statistic of how much a person should be able to pick within an amount of time. If I am picking alone, I usually pick for both sides, therefore taking more time in one spot rather than clipping what’s on “my side” of the vines (#toomucheffort or #toomuchtime?). As I am aware of what it’s like to meet these grapes back at the winery as they are being sorted through, I fastidiously am discarding green/unripe/sun-bruised/raisin-y/bird-pecked grapes and making sure there are no leaves/moths/spiders/mice in the bucket. But regardless, Barry usually comes to me on the other side of the vines and says “How’s it going, Shauna? Pretty slow?” I slightly smile, reminding myself of the Quality Control (#Arina), and then match his pace.

Maybe because I am too busy taking pictures...

But what I really wanted to say was that despite all the tucked-away bugs, end-of-summer early mornings, and purple-stained stickiness, the best part of hand-picking grapes is that you are never hungry!

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