On Saturday, I drove out to a vineyard with my friend, the Cowboy, to participate in an activity arranged by a wine appreciation group. The idea was that you'd help with the grape harvest for a few hours, see how the grapes were crushed, have some lunch and get a free bottle of wine.
We arrived at 10:30 a.m. and immediately set to work filling five-gallon buckets with grapes clipped from the vines using gardening shears. I'd brought my own shears and a pair of brown, cotton work gloves. The Cowboy hadn't brought any gloves and borrowed a pair of shears. We each took one side of a row of vines and became an efficient grape harvesting team. Ours were the first two buckets of grapes brought in.
It didn't take long before my neck and back began to protest the sudden increase in manual labor. I spend 9-12 hours per day sitting at a desk hunched over a computer, which doesn't really prepare a person for a lot of steady, physical work. The Cowboy began to note each rodeo injury by date ("Oklahoma City 2001") as they issued reminders to his nervous system. We were very glad the first time the buckets ran out.
We stood around awkwardly with the other wine aficionados for what seemed like an hour, waiting and waiting for the truck to come back with more buckets. Everyone was in couples or pairs of friends and nobody seemed very interested in socializing. We drank some bottled water and cleaned off our hands while we waited. By then, my gloves were stiff with sticky grape juice.
Once we got more buckets, we resumed the harvest with a vengeance, but we were getting increasingly tired and sore. The Cowboy cut his finger with the shears and complained that the purple grape juice in the wound was going to tattoo him for life. Have you heard of the book, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace? That title kept popping into my head as we discussed how ridiculous it was to have thought that hours of backbreaking labor in exchange for a meal and some wine sounded like a good idea.
We ran out of buckets again and waited perhaps another hour to get more. I was getting really hungry and I heard other people saying the same thing, but we had another go-round of harvesting first. We wished we'd thought to buy a case of PowerBars on the way there. We could have sold them for $5 each.
When the truck came back with more buckets, the Cowboy and I filled four more before we called it a day (together we filled about 20 buckets total).
Finally, we went into town to the main winery. We walked by a hot barbecue grill that clearly was not in the midst of cooking food. It was 3:30 p.m. by then, incidentally. They showed us the machine that took the grapes from the stems, piped the fruit into tanks and spit the stems onto the ground. The owner showed us the fermenting vats, but by then our interest was waning and we were starting to smell hamburgers cooking.
We ate our burgers, chips and a nice salad, and I went back for a hot dog after all that. The wine tasting began while I was still eating a mustard-slathered hot dog, so I'm not really sure how much I liked the first wine. We tried a variety of wines, including the port for which we were harvesting that day, a mead flavored with blackberries, and an apple wine. The grape wines were pretty typical of Midwestern wines: sweet and rather lacking in body. The Cowboy and I both liked the apple wine best, so the instant we got our coupons we made a beeline to the shop, got two bottles and headed home.
What did I learn? Well, definitely a new appreciation for farm laborers. I also learned that when someone suggests bug repellant, it would be a good idea to stop and buy some. Later I learned that Claritin does a pretty good job quelling hay fever symptoms but doesn't do much for itchy chigger bites. Finally, I learned that from here on out, I should confine my wine appreciation activities to drinking.