The chief of design for Ford Motors probably knows the design chief for Cadillac, but regardless of how friendly they may be in off hours, trade secrets are always verboten.
The same goes for everyone in almost every competitive field, whether it’s shoes, banking, computers, perfume or screwdrivers.
Wine is different. And now, with harvest under way throughout California, winemakers everywhere, from Bulgaria to Humboldt County, go into hyper mode, experiencing relatively similar agonies — long days, equipment failures, labor issues and every imaginable problem.
And even a few unimaginable.
They all face similar problems and commiserate with colleagues at other wineries. And even help each other in times of dire need.
Harvest time, also called “crush” around here, isn’t only hectic, but fraught with tensions that produce enough furrowed brows, perspiration, and frayed nerves to last a year — until next year when it all returns.
No one survives without an extra dose of adrenaline. The preferred drink, after a cold beer, is coffee.
Typical days run into nights; sleep is at a premium. These days, many men sport what they call “crush beards,” a sign that they don’t even have time to shave.
Anyone who contacts a winery at this time of year might well encounter some testiness, even from the tasting room staff. And no, the winemaker is not available. Don’t even ask.
Some people believe winemakers work for only a few months of the year. That is ludicrous. For the 10 months since the prior harvest, daily work has filled their hours — dealing with growers, planting decisions, farming nightmares, preparing equipment for the amazingly intense eight-week period when the entire year culminates in such frenzied days and nights that everyone is on edge.
For most winemakers, intense work starts even before a grape is picked. They all have to create tank and barrel space by bottling the remaining unbottled wine from past vintages. Some actually finish bottling the last few gallons the day they begin receiving grapes.
Because of the intensity of the harvest season for almost everyone, friendships are shelved. Everyone understands what others are facing.
It is only when harvest is finally over, and the tension has eased a bit, that winemakers get together to share tales of woe, most of which they know others just experienced, at least a similar kind.
The amazing thing about listening to a chat between winemakers is that they so often share what in other industries might be considered trade secrets. Winemakers share information about yeast strains, barrels, vineyard pests, techniques and relationships with growers.
The reason they can comfortably do this is that the raw material they use is at the heart of the difference between their products. Grapes may be the same variety, but they differ.
Even if two winemakers both are using cabernet grapes from Alexander Valley, the vineyards they come from are different, harvest dates differ and the techniques they use are never identical — so their products come out differently.
Sure, jealousies exist, but for the most part the wine industry is unlike any other in that the shared experiences bind people from different companies as friendly colleagues, not archrivals.
Last Saturday, hundreds of people from all areas of the wine industry gathered for a memorial service for the respected Denny Martin, former head winemaker for Fetzer.