Monday, October 29, 2007

A Month of Mornings

For the past month I have been working at a winery. It's a small operation, 2500- 3000 per year. And there's only the winegrower (one who grows his own grapes and makes the wine from them), the assistant winegrower and 3 field/cellar workers. I was very happy and proud to have been offered this job. The winegrower is among the best in the area and is highly respected.

In the mornings I would get up at 5:00 and get in my care at 5:30. Depending on traffic I would make it to the winery in an hour and 15 minutes to an hour and a half.

My morning duties were to do punch-downs and climb to the top of these 30 ft. tall tanks and do the pump-overs. Standing on a ladder on top of these tanks, watching the sunrise, this was my favorite part of the day.
Grapes fermenting in open bins, waiting to be punched down:

Looking down from up high on the ladder:

Looking into the tank while pumping over:

Dawn from the ladder:

In the mornings I was greeted by the owners 2 dogs, who I loved playing with:

After a couple of weeks of working hard to prove myself, The Mexican workers opened up to me and I spend the days getting back my Spanish. I was slow and clumsy, but they were patient and kind.

I enjoyed the daily challenges both to my physical strength and endurance, and to my communication skills.

But alas, as it is with anyone from musicians to mathematicians, those who can do something well, are not always the best teachers. And so it was here. Communication was horribly poor, and fear of incurred anger due to the inevitable misunderstandings kept the workers worried and nerve-wracked. As one man who suffered from headaches and heart palpitations said to me, "if you work here you will eventually become ill."

In the end, I couldn't hang with all the duress and abuse and lack of love generated by the owner. The Mexican guys are headed home soon for a well deserved rest while the Northern California rains begin and winery works grinds to a halt.

I will always remember these men and women and the back breaking work they do daily so that we can drink a bottle of wine with our fancy meals. Meanwhile, I doubt that they have ever even been given a bottle of the nectar that is the fruit of their labor.

Not all wineries are run like this. I know that some bring in catered meals every Friday nights for the workers, allow a beer or two after a hard day of slavery in the fields. Some wineries hold tastings and parties for their employees, English classes for those who speak Spanish and Spanish lessons for those who don't.

There is justice and fairness out there, but rest assured that wine making is back-breaking manual labor. Toss out those ideas of wine making being all about communing with nature and romancing the grape. That's a marketing ploy. Commercial wine making involves long days of picking with no breaks and no lunches, no rights for the workers, and no talking back or trying to stand up for yourself or your friends. But their looks of bottled-up anger and inexpressible resentment say everything and make me ashamed to be a part of the over-lording culture. Because even though I was working right there along side them, and incurred the exact same treatment, in the end I have other options. This was an self-chosen experience for me, and one that I could quit to return to higher paying and more appreciative employers. These are options they don't feel like they have and they will return to this area next year to continue the only work they know.

Looks beautiful doesn't it?