“The good thing,” I said to the cellar master, after sending a hose through the destemmer, “is I don’t make the same mistake twice.”
“The catch,” he replied, “is there are so many new mistakes to make.”
Welcome to my second year doing harvest in which I really learn what I don’t know. Join me in wine country via playlist, with assists from much smarter and more experienced players.
“No Sleep Till Brooklyn” The Beastie Boys
12-hour shifts – if you get out on time. There is no doubt that anyone working harvest will sleep – probably deeply for at least eight hours of the precious few not spent working – but it will not feel like that at that time. The fog sets in about week two and then adrenaline just takes over.
I pulled something nasty in my neck moving a puncheon a bit before harvest started. (It was empty but those things are heavy.) I decided, with typical absurd underestimation of how difficult very difficult things are, that I’d get strong in two weeks. There are not enough planks in the world to get ready for harvest in that time. I was literally on the crush pad for half a day before I hurt myself.
“Why Does It Always Rain On Me?” Travis
The tunnel at the end of all these lights is probably, as my mother used to tell me, a feeling rather than a reality. It’s understandable when you’re 10 hours in with no end to the grapes in sight.
“Mr. Blue Sky” Electric Light Orchestra
This is from a playlist for my adorable toddler niece. If it’s good enough to get Imogen dancing then it’s good enough for me or you.
“Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues” Eels
I had never heard this song before it was mentioned as one played on repeat during harvest by Megan Schofield, director of winemaking for Constellation. My loss – until now when I’m certain “Goddamn right, it’s a beautiful day” will get me to work in the morning. We went to high school together, and in addition to tips about education and a tonne of new music for harvest, she also shared the simplest but most effective tip for surviving harvest: light gloves you can wear all day. My hands with the grime that never scrubs off thank you. (But if you find yourself with grape-etched hands, try a scrub with citric acid granules. Then a lot of heavy-duty moisturizer.)
“Unless It’s Kicks” Okkervil River
Grace can mean a lot of things: elegant movement (sooo not me) or sort of politeness on steroids (sometimes) or the state where you exist at peace with whatever ineffable plan the g/Gods have cooked up this time. The latter is controversial but the one I hope for the most.
“No Sissies” Hawksley Workman
Regardless of how physically weak you are, the most important thing to show up with on a quality crushpad is a willingness to work. You just can’t shirk. That’s all. Plus maybe laughing at yourself and a willingness to pay beer fines.
“Nobody’s Fault But Mine” Sister Rosetta Tharpe
A few weeks before harvest, the wheels literally came off the rolling door in our main cellar. Discussing it the next day, our incredibly capable and experienced Aussie cellar hand looked at me squinty-eyed and asked: “And who did that?”
Fine, it was me – I just hit the close button next to the door! The wheels flew off and hit me. Same as the scissor lift always dies when I get on it. Machines sense my mechanical ineptitude and know they need have no fear. However, that burnt-out pump, yeah … that’s one hundred per cent on me.
“Bring The Pain” Missy Elliott & Method Man
Expect it or not, the pain will come. Missy will help get you through it.
“Losing It” Fisher
This is thanks to the incomparable Ian Hongell, winemaker and general manager at Torbreck in the Barossa. He makes amazing wines and has the most fun and best insights. It was scraped from a wide and varying playlist, any of which would be perfect. I went with this because it so perfectly sums up the insane energy that anyone working for Australians has to try and meet. Try and then try harder – you’ll need it for harvest.
His succinct harvest advice follows: “Stay off the piss. Eat well. Sleep well. Wine is more resilient than you’d think. You’re not doing brain surgery. Enjoy the creative phase. Keep the winery tidy. Help. People who run, are about to fuck up or already have. Be kind.”
“Bohemian Like You” The Dandy Warhols
Once upon a time, in a world far away, I watched my favourite people dance on their desks in my office to this song and I rolled my eyes and was so annoyed. I’ve since learned my lesson and will never make that mistake again. Have at ‘er. Peak performance requires some fun.
“New Orleans Is Sinking” The Tragically Hip
This comes courtesy of Justin Phillips, crushpad manager at Henry of Pelham, who stewarded me through my first harvest. I cannot imagine the weight of everything that rests on the person responsible for this one, most critical, aspect of getting wine made. He tapes things together, jumps across equipment – whatever it takes to get the fruit safely in and out of our way. I just wish it was a little easier, although he always makes it look that way.
He also introduced me to the deceptively simple and shockingly effective idea of putting orthopaedic inserts into rubber boots. Doesn’t sound like much but it’s a game-changer.
“When The Shit Goes Down” Cypress Hill
And it will. Please see above.
“Little Girl” Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse featuring Julian Casablancas
“A trick that people use to make you think they are smart” does not work on the crushpad. Nobody cares. Get the fruit in or else.
“Get Over It” OK Go
We’ve covered this. Things are gonna go sideways. You cannot get fussed. I mean, you can but that just means you’ll spend a way-too-long shift fussed. So unfuss yourself and get over it.
“Don’t Get Me Wrong” The Pretenders
This is cheating – it’s my barrel cellar song. But it’s so uplifting that I’m taking it with me to the crushpad.
“Rudie Can’t Fail” The Clash
I love the Clash and couldn’t settle on the right song to get in here so was thrilled when Emma Garner, winemaker at Thirty Bench, recommended this. “If Rudie can’t fail, we won’t either!”
I approve of the choice almost as much as I approve of her rieslings and her survival suggestion of “Snacks, snacks and more snacks.” Garner also recommended something unexpected that I immediately stopped to stock up on – hair ties. “Not only keeps my hair out of my eyes but also a place to hold my pen.”
“I’m So Tired” Fugazi
There will come a point in harvest when all the coffee, great music and pep talks are no longer enough. Then you need to sleep. For a long time. Please promise me. Because you can push through too far to the point you don’t know which way is up anymore and trust me, it’s not fun. (Although I can point out the perfect corner to hide and sob tears of exhaustion.)
“Up All Night” SAULT
And now for something completely different … This entire album was suggested by Jay Johnson, whose winemaking program at Hidden Bench needs no introduction. Whatever is working for them is something the rest of us want to try out.
“Bar Italia” Pulp
A colleague who worked the night shift described what it was like to roll up the outside doors and watch the sunrise after hours of caging. For those who’ve never done it, caging is slowlyyyyy moving nascent sparkling wine from one large storage container to another so the bottles are lined up to settle without disturbing any of the dead yeast inside. It is probably the most painful thing most of us in the first world will ever experience. But apparently, there was still some beauty in the sun coming up and knowing it was almost behind them.
“Forever In Blue Jeans” Neil Diamond
I would never in a million years have thought of, well, anything by Neil Diamond. But this has become the uplifting song of the year for me, thanks again to Megan Schofield. This is why we need to call a friend (or someone we knew a lifetime ago) and ask for help because – while acknowledging this sounds like a total Pollyanna mantra – new knowledge and joy comes from the most unexpected places.
It’s a testament to the need to stay open to the world, as best we can while preserving our sanity. This song stuck in my head because I literally had it written into an employment contract once that I was never permitted to wear jeans while on company time. When you work 80 hours a week, that is a lot of time in uncomfortable clothes. So though my next chapter is evolving, I’m pretty sold on blue jeans. (Or Carhartts.)
See y’all next harvest somewhere.
“What Me Worry” St. Vincent
The incomparable Phillip Seymour Hoffman once said, “People always say life is short [but] it’s long.”
There are so many seconds and minutes and hours that make up our one short precious life, and we’re stuck living all of them.
Best make the best of them.
Find the playlist in one place on Spotify. And please do add musical or other harvest survival suggestions below.