Wine in the making

Ordinarily, an invitation to visit a winery is one that I would pass up. I don’t care for wine (with the exception of sweet wine, and even that only in amounts smaller than a wine glass), so I have no interest in either tasting or purchasing wine.

I did once visit a winery near San Francisco, because I was there on a business trip and an evening at the winery was the big leisure event provided by the company hosting the conference I was attending. I remember only how strong (and therefore unpalatable to me) the espresso coffee was, and how loud the music was, so that I took refuge indoors to read while everyone else drank and danced. I suppose wine was available but I didn’t drink any.

I am on the “IT Fellows” committee at work that plans events to help members of the department get to know each other and have some fun together (as well as raise money for charity). But I missed the meeting when they planned an after-hours event at a nearby winery. I liked the idea of a low-key, quiet event, however (the Christmas party, when the department budget allowed for one, was loud both with music and many people talking), and being out among growing things.

The rain soon put an end to being outside, though we got a look (at some distance) at the grapevines, covered with netting to keep the birds from eating the ripe grapes. (The birds, we were told, know as soon as the grapes are ripe, better than the humans do.) But as not very many of us showed up (a grand total of eight, include two late arrivals), it was indeed a nice quiet get-together. And the tastes of two sweet wines I tried (one blackberry and one Concord grape) were quite good.

What was most interesting, however, was the tour of the wine “cellar.” (The door is clearly marked CELLAR, but the entire operation – the indoors part anyway – is in a 1600 sq. ft. pole barn.) I don’t know what I had expected – I really hadn’t thought about it. But I felt some surprise at seeing a line of large stainless steel tanks down one side, and a table set up with chemistry apparatus on the opposite wall.

The winery is operated by a husband-and-wife team, for whom owning and operating a winery is the fulfillment of a dream. (The answer to why I had never heard of the winery before was answered when I learned that they just began it a year ago.) The wife explained to us the entire process from the time the grapes are picked until the labels go on the bottle of wine (waterproof labels, she explained – because wine bottles often go in a bowl of ice).

It’s a long, many-step process, with much testing done all along the way (hence the chemistry equipment, needed to measure levels of sugar at the start, and later the level of sulfur dioxide, and probably some others that I have forgotten). Just checking sulfur dioxide levels, which they do weekly (more often earlier in the process) takes them the entire day. Partly this is because they have to thoroughly wash their equipment in between each batch – anything that touches the wine has to be cleaned four times, she explained. (A large part of their work is simply keeping the room and everything in it clean.)

As interesting as the tour was, I can’t imagine operating a winery would be anything like a dream job to me. Of course, not caring for wine is probably a part of that. (They get to sample their product often.) Now if I worked at an ice cream factory…

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