By Emily Erickson
Grocery stores are magical places, with brightly colored goods presented in tantalizing perfection. I often start my shopping in these stores by walking down the produce aisle. With rows of vibrant greens, oranges, yellows and reds, it’s as if the fruits and vegetables are in the early stages of courting — vying for that special place in my heart, erm… shopping cart. They’re washed, polished, strategically trimmed, well lit and, well, you get the idea.
After piling my cart high with ripe Peruvian avocados, Florida oranges, Mexican blueberries, Chilean grapes and Michigan asparagus, I’ll cruise down the store’s center aisles. Plucking cereals, grains, nuts and assorted snacks off the shelves, my mind will swim with the meals I’ll concoct, assembling ingredients with little regard to where they’re from or how they’re made.
Finally, if I’m feeling particularly inspired, I’ll finish my grocery store trip with a stroll down the beer and wine section, grabbing a can or bottle to compliment one of the meals I’d been planning to prepare throughout my excursion. Thumbing the label, I’ll read the name of the brewery or winery without stopping to think about the incredible operations and systems necessary to bring that bottle to my store aisle and into my cart. I’m nearly always so caught up in the magic of the store and my fantastical feasts that I don’t consider the remarkable processes behind all the marketing.
Every now and again, however, I participate in something that reminds me of the things I consume being the product of other people’s energy; a culmination of seasons, sunshine, rain and hard work. They’ve been developed, recipe tested, prepared, packaged and delivered, plopping like little presents into my local grocery store, just for their journey to end inside my shopping cart.
This past weekend, I got to participate in one such perspective-shifting event by working a grape harvest and press at a hobby vineyard in Wenatchee, Wash.
Waking early, we unclipped and unnetted the rows of perfectly ripe grapes, all nearly bursting off the vine. Operating in teams, we tackled one varietal at a time, starting at the top of the row with personal shears and a shared bucket. Once our buckets were filled with large bunches of grapes, we transferred that bucket into an even larger bin to be transported to the pressing team.
From there, the pressers would dump the heaping pile of grapes into the press, which was essentially a basket with a crank. The grapes used for making white wine would be squeezed of their juice and separated from the compressed skins, stems and insides. The juice of these grapes would then begin their primary fermentation, for which yeast is incorporated with the liquid, turning sugars into alcohol.
Once we finished the white wine grapes, we continued down the rows of merlot and Shiraz, cutting the clusters of deep purple orbs at the base of the bunch and filling our buckets and bins once again.
Unlike white wine grapes, red wine grapes are pressed into a pulp, with their skins remaining an integral part of their processing.
After every row was cleared and double checked for missed fruit, we began to wrap up the day’s harvest. We removed the nets from the high vines, coiling them into their labeled boxes, storing them away for next season, and waiting for the process to begin again.
The wine that would result from the many other steps beyond the ones in which I participated would never be available for retail sale. Each year, after months of growing, preparing and processing, this wine is bottled, stored, sipped and shared among family and friends of the vineyard.
So much more than merely selecting a bottle off of the shelves, we’re personally connected to the wine that we helped make. With every sip, we’ll think about that day of harvest, laughing about the stains on our fingers that took days to wash off. We’ll reminisce about the crisp morning air and the joy of coming together to participate in the process. That connection to what I’m consuming, where it came from and the work that went into making it, well, that’s the real magic, isn’t it?
Emily Erickson is a freelance writer and bartender originally from Wisconsin, with a degree in sociology and an affinity for playing in the mountains.
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