We are (finally!) approaching the end of Harvest 2016, up here in Castelcerino, in the Soave hills. It’s been by far the longest harvest that anyone here at the winery can remember. Since the 1st September, between 3 and 6 people have been hand-harvesting the 15 hectares, meticulously arranging the precious bunches of grapes into small boxes.
Looking Back Over Harvest 2016
The Preparations – starting the yeast pied-de-cuve.
Early September – at the beginning of the harvest, when I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
Mid-September – at this point I still had plenty of energy and had concretised my place in the team.
End of September – with the end of harvest in sight, I was feeling tired but happy.
Back in September, in a weak attempt to beat 35°C heat, we started the working day at 7am. Shortly after, our start time changed to 7.30am because it allowed us to pop by the local corner shop and pick up fresh bread for sandwiches to take into the vineyards. Nowadays, we start at 8am because sunrise is only fifteen minutes earlier.
Every harvest experience is different. I’ve seen some photos on social media which (once you’ve actually seen the reality of vintage) are so clearly staged that it’s nothing short of hilarious!
I would love to pretend that it’s been anywhere near that glamourous here! The truth is that I’m secretly very happy when rain calls off play because it means I can wash my trousers, check my emails and make a fair attempt at cleaning my room.
That being said, it’s been a great experience.
It’s basically been a continuous pantomime for the last seven weeks. We have the same (admittedly very repetitive) jokes… for which there are appropriate “ooooh” and “ahhh” reactions.
We seem to have devised our own language (you may remember that we’d had problems communicating before) and our own way of accentuating certain words.
I’m going to miss this dysfunctional family of Poles when harvest comes to an end. Our team is so eclectic, you simply couldn’t make it up!
There are two men, who have been working in the vineyards here for the last 10 years.
One is a typical Jack-the-lad character. He’s the ringleader of the Polish team. Despite having more muscles than brains, he has an endearing boyish smile and a surprising amount of patience (especially when teaching me how to reverse the tractor and trailer!) Being the only one in this team who speaks Italian, I’ve gotten to know him very well over the last two months.
The other man clearly used to be a very good labourer, but over time he’s lost his teeth and his hearing, all whilst picking up an unhealthy dependency on wine and vodka. We’ll call him Ben. Even if you don’t understand a word he says, Ben has the most extraordinary ability to make you laugh, just with his intonations.
Then there are this year’s new additions:
A Polish policeman, who – believe it or not – took holiday from his real job to come here and pick grapes. We like making policeman jokes at his expense. 🙂
And the policeman’s girlfriend – a very sweet girl in her early 30s. She’s the shortest of the group and the least suited for harvesting pergola veronese (which, at 2 metres high, often make me stretch to my limits.)
Occasionally, we’re joined by “Jack”s mother-in-law. They’re sharing a bedroom but it turns out that this woman snores so badly that “Jack” has to sleep in the bathroom!
Now that the policeman has had to go back to work, it’s possible that we’ll have “Boozy Ben”s wife as a replacement. If his deafness wasn’t already bad enough, it turns out that “Mrs Ben” has sight problems! Wish me luck!!
Tonight, even though we still have another five days to go, we are celebrating the end of the harvest. Tomorrow, I go back to Paris for a bit.