Life Among the Interns

OK, it is harvest time for Alquimista Cellars.

Life is pretty busy with early rising to either pick grapes, often in the middle of the night, or to commence the daily 7 AM punchdown routine. And then there are all the other things of harvest, such as processing fruit, pressing off fermentors (yes, the vessels that hold fermentations are fermentors with an “o” – a fermenter is a yeast), the endless job of sanitation (it is said that winemaking is 85% sanitation, i.e. boredom, 10% interesting challenges and 5% sheer terror) and managing wayward fermentations. We are all working a gazillion hours a day and getting little sleep. This is the time of year when a famous winemaker has said that everyone “goes into asshole mode”. Thank you for that quote, Michael S.

Well, there are some winery folk that seem to not be in that mode. I’m talking about the international interns, 3 of which populate our home right now. These hard-working young people come to California to do so much of the hard work in our wineries for very little pay and a lot of sweat expended. The interns living with us work for DeLoach, a scant 3 miles from our home and a winery with which I have a rich and lovely history. These guys, all in their mid-20s, work from 7 AM to 8, 9, or 10 PM (and sometimes later) and come home tired but upbeat. Early on during harvest, we would open multiple bottles of wine together (sometimes more than a dozen at a time) and discuss the merits and winemaking techniques of these bottles and the frequently unusual varietals within them. Right now we all get home and pretty much eat, sleep, rise, work, repeat. But we still open a bottle of wine or two to consume with the dinner provided by my wife Mara, and often more than a bottle or two of beer. Good beer. It is said that it takes a lot of beer to make good wine, and our home certainly lives that!

I cannot say enough about these guys. They provide Mara and myself with their youth and enthusiasm. They come from Bordeaux, Mendoza and Galicia but all have one mindset: learn all they can about the best winemaking techniques. We now have a household with several languages and traditions but with the binding love of wine. And Mara gets to cook her heart out with delicious dinners, excepting when she is in the winery with me punching down and processing fruit until late. On those evenings, we take advantage of the local pizzerias and Chinese take-out restaurants. No one complains as we all love pizza – I vowed that when I moved back into civilization from being out at Flowers on the coast for 6 years, I would have pizza at least once a week. So we try to make our interns lives a little more delicious.

We have Sunday night family dinner every week, excepting that there are Sundays when we are working until way too late. We try to keep this open, and on those nights I usually bbq and we have a bit of a celebration of life, and of family and friends. Our intern from last year and our adopted 3rd son, Jackson, comes over and somehow conjures up several interesting wines to go with the standard fare. Of course we bbq on French oak wine barrel wood.

Our interns are tired, as are we right now. But they don’t go into a-hole mode and always seem appreciative of our efforts to keep them fed (and the coffee carafe filled). They enrich our already rich lives and we are lucky to have them under our roof. Just another reason why I am the luckiest man I know.

I hope your lives are filled with good food, wine and conversation. Thank you for your love of wine and for support of hose-draggers such as me and our interns. Your love and interest in wine means that we get to do more of what we love to do, even when we are bone-tired and rise-eat-work-eat-sleep-repeat. It is quality eating, quality work, sound sleep and a lovely life. As long as harvest lasts only a few more weeks….

In Vino Veritas,
Greg La Follette

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