Winemakers are preparing for the delirium of harvest

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Did you know that Wine Country is expecting?

Over the years, countless winemakers have said harvest is a lot like expecting a baby, and the metaphor is apt. During this season, their cell phone becomes an appendage because they have to be reachable 24/7. And like prospective parents, they are giddy with excitement about the pure joy that’s about to be birthed. But they’re also anxious about the havoc that’s about to unfold.

“It’s like being on call and your water breaks and you go for it,” said Tracy Nielsen of La Pitchoune, a boutique winery in Sonoma County. “I haven’t slept since 2012, but it’s part of the deal. You want to pick the fruit in the early morning when it’s cool. You don’t want the fruit to ferment.”

Nielsen said it’s a crazy-making privilege.

“All year you’re doing what it takes until it’s August, and you’re anticipating the season and why we do what we do. Sleep deprivation is real, but it almost doesn’t matter. It all goes into how well the wine is made.”

Talk of harvest makes Kathleen Inman shake her head and laugh.

“What got me into the wine business was temporary insanity, and after 20 years, it has become permanent,” she said.

The vintner of her namesake winery, Inman Family Wines in Santa Rosa, is gearing up for the sleepless delirium of harvest.

“It’s really like having a baby for me because it’s nights on end without getting any real sleep,” Inman said.

“Harvest begins at 1 a.m. so the grapes are cold,” she added. “If the grapes get too warm, you won’t be able to extract as much. The harvest crew goes home at 6 a.m., and that’s when my work begins.”

According to Inman, there’s a saying that 49% of harvest is moving heavy stuff around, 49% is cleaning stuff and 2% is drinking beer.

She said the Russian River Brewing Co. even brews a harvest pale ale with this on the label: It takes a lot of beer to make wine.

“By the time I have that beer,” Inman said, “I go to sleep and then wake up a few hours later, and it literally starts all over again.”

Winemakers across the board are getting ready for the contractions of harvest.

It’s a messy, long labor, not unlike that of comedian Rita Rudner who complained “life is tough enough without having someone kick you from the inside.”

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