Get The Most Out Of It
Photo courtesy of Qwerty7904
Over the years of belonging to Winemakingtalk.com, I have come to know many other contributors. The level of knowledge possessed by these folks is quite remarkable. When I was asked to contribute an article, I had a very hard time coming up with a topic that was not already covered. What could I possibly write that could add value?
It then hit me. So much has been already said about the very specific technical aspects of winemaking, but what about the broader, more social aspects? Appropriately, there seems to be a lot of focus on the chemical science of winemaking, but what about the human factor? I have long felt that getting the most out of the act of winemaking is equally important as getting the most out of the experience of making wine.
Let me begin with a little background. My father came from Lovas, a small village in Hungary. He was the latest in a long line of winemakers in my family. Lovas was a small farming community where the grape harvest was a joyous, social event. For hundreds of years, folks gladly came to the winery to help out with the harvest. Although harvesting grapes is physically demanding, they never viewed it as work and never expected to get paid. They came simply because of the social aspect.
A typical Hungarian grapes harvest starts at dawn. The men went to the winery and vineyards to get everything ready, while the women began cooking the morning meal for the army of friends and family that were about to arrive. Promptly at 8am, everyone gathered at the winery’s terrace to eat breakfast. During breakfast, the group got organized and job assignments were handed out.
For job assignments, there was a clear “pecking order”. Elder men would do the actual picking, cutting clusters from the vine. Sons would then lug the grapes to the carts (and in the process show off their strength to the girls). Daughters would stomp the grapes. Young children would pick through the grapes and pull out any leaves or debris. Wives and Mothers would have their hands full cooking for everybody. At the very top of the winemaking pyramid were the grandfathers (or the eldest). They worked inside the winery itself. Being the most experienced, there word was law.
Work progressed until the noon time meal when the whole workforce would gather again at the winery’s terrace. Lunch was always a very light meal but always included beer (It was always believed that beer gave you strength). Since there was still plenty of work to do, not much time was spent eating lunch. In short order, everybody was back to work.
When the picking was complete, and the grapes “put to bed”, the real fun started. Harvest dinners were often the stuff of legend. Roasted, stuffed duck and geese, goulash, suckling pig, lecho (a veggie stew), bacon bread, and chicken paprikas (a chicken stew) were just some of the dishes that were expected. Bottles of Last year’s vintage always started things off.
As the evening progressed, the vintages always got older and older. The grandfathers would always disagree on how one year’s vintage was better then another and out would come several cases of wine to settle the argument by popular vote. Of course the arguments were always good natured and were mostly a traditional way to get people to try some wine.
Further into the evening, out would come the instruments and the music started playing. Hungarian folk music is some of the most upbeat music ever invented, fast moving and up-tempo.
Finally, when dawn looms, the army disbands. Each person is given several bottles of last year’s vintage to take home. The experience and those few bottles of wine were their only paycheck.
I always try to follow the Hungarian model. I am glad to say that I can come pretty close. There are some differences, but the spirit is the same. The grape crush is an event that I spend the better part of the year planning. Some years are better and more memorable than others, but they always result in a good time being had by all.
Last year’s crush was one for the books. We had 80 people and the work was completed by 2pm and the food was amazing. Some of the traditional Hungarian dishes were served as well as “American” dishes. After the meal was complete, my brother and sister-in-law, who are part of a blue grass band in Georgia, pulled out a guitar and started playing. Wine was flowing and everybody started singing along.
In addition to recent vintages, I broke out several cases of wine from my first vintages dating back 20 years or more. With each year tasted, memories of past crushes would be offered by those that attended. At one point, I opened a bottle from my father’s vineyard in Hungary. The vineyard was left to one of my Hungarian cousins when my father left Hungary, so a bottle from the Hungarian vineyard is considered very special and rare.
The “after party” went on until the wee hours of the morning. Rather than driving home, most simply spent the night, taking up whatever floor space that was available.
There is an old Hungarian superstition that it is bad luck to open a bottle of wine when you are alone. I think that this is simply rooted in the missed feeling of fellowship when one drinks alone. With this in mind, my advice is simple. Make the most of the winemaking experience. Involve your friends in the process and turn your winemaking into an event. For those of you that make kits, you can still have this experience. I have one friend that, each year, gets a band of family and friends together for a “crush” and they all do batches of kit wine together.
To me, winemaking is so much more than the process of making wine. It is the social experience that makes it. On snowy winter days, when things at the winery were slow, I like to open a bottle of wine and think of the fun everybody had at that particular year’s crush. I smile and wonder if good memories actually make wine taste better. I am convinced that they do.
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