Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Snakes and Bees

There are lots of unglamourous things to do in growing and making wine. We often joke as we work about feeling 'romantic' or glamorous', as we clean things or lift things. The past two days have given some good examples of the un-fun side of winemaking.

Saturday after picking and crushing the home vineyard grapes we stopped by the Elandrich vineyard to take sugar readings. A 2 foot rattle snake greeted us on the walk way up to the Zinfandel section. The little snakes are the worst. Their rattles don't rattle yet, they are too soft to make noise, and they bite everything, since they haven't learned yet not to waste their poison.

With a rake and a pair of hedge trimmers we were able to eliminate the little dude. The head keeps on biting well after being removed from the rest of the critter, so you've got to bury it. That task done, we went on to test the Zinfandel. 23.4 BRIX, almost ready, another week or so.

Yesterday was spent at Chaine d'Or picking Chardonnay and Merlot. As soon as the picking starts, the bees and wasps show up. Hundreds of them if not thousands. They hover around the crushpad where there is lots of good grape gunk to feast on.

I got my first two stings of the season. Luckily I'm not allergic to bees, but one of the pickers had a pretty bad reaction on his hand. That's a little secret of picking. You can't sneak up on the clusters, you have to give the plant a good shake before you reach in to start cutting. That lets the bees know you are there and they move on to another plant.

At the end of the day I was crushing about 600 pounds of Merlot. My shirt and pants were covered with grape gunk from the crusher. The little bits of grape are too much for the bees to resist and they crawl all over you. It's not unusual to have 10-15 bees on you and many more hovering around. You've got to just let them be bees. If you leave them alone they'll happily harvest the sugar and be on their way.

So add two more skills to the winemaking playbook. Snake wrangler and bee herder.

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