Boronda Farm Grape Harvest
Cathy on What's Its Name
Cathy picking grapes.
Ted picking grapes.
Sally and Sarah Aitken waiting for the truck alonside the full boxes of grapes.
Merry Finch and Uncle Pete.
Every fall, the family would stay on alert during September and October, waiting for The Call: "The grapes are ready. Harvest on Saturday."
The day started with aunts, uncles and cousins scrounging clippers and scissors and converging on the small vineyard before the sun got too hot.
First, we rolled the netting off the rows of vines, revealing whatever juicy bunches of cabernet grapes the birds hadn't reached.
Then, in ones, twos and threes, we would grab empty boxes and started from the end of a row, carefully clipping every bunch and laying them in the boxes. We carried each full box to the gate and grabbed an empty one.
Shirts were shed as the sun climbed. On a good year, the sun was hot and we were sweaty before the last grapes rested by the gate.
When there were enough boxes to fill the farm's flatbed truck, the first load went up to the wine cellar along with a crew of people to start the crush.
The cellar was tucked into the hill beneath Grampa Lee's study, completely underground on two sides, but with a doorway on one narrow side accesible by a wide dirt path. It's cool walls were covered in canvas painted in fanciful murals by the artist Wolo, author of some delightful children's books.
The first loading crew piled on the truck with the boxes and made the short trip up Grampa's diveway to the cellar.
We crushed the bunches of grapes in a small hopper that rested on big plastic drums inside the cellar. It was always pleasantly cool in there. One person would crank the rollers - sort of like very long, looses gears - while two or three others would load in the grapes and work as fast as possible to remove extraneous leaves, twigs, frogs and other debris before they went through the crusher.
The crushed stems landed in a box above the plastic drum. It had holes in the bottom big enough to let the juice and skins (necessary for the redness of the wine) through.
The stems went into a press. The slot-sided barrel of the press was loaded nearly full with stems, carefully ditributed around its threaded core. Then the round wooden lid was fitted over the threads and the long handled business end was threaded on the top. Two people turned the big screw as it drove the lid ever tighter down on the stems. Eventually a trickle of pinkish grape juice emerged from the bottom. Every drop was precious.
When all the grapes were pressed, we dispersed to various houses or jumped in the pool to clean up. Then the feast began.
Those fondest of fire build a roaring one in the big barbecue pit. When the embers were ready, the grill platform was set in a notch at the proper height and the meat went on. Side dishes emerged from the family houses along the ridge.
Dogs milled around under foot. Babies and small children were steered away from the hot fire area. We brought out bottles of previous vintages and ate and socialized until well past dark.
The wine continued to ferment in the plastic drums until it was ready to be decanted into the big oak barrels where it would age until ready for bottling.
Phil and Phil starting the net removal for a fow of grapes.
Petey and Doug Winslow moving nets.
Eric picking grapes
Geoff and Janine picking grapes.
Patty, ready to head up to the cellar to start the crush.
Uncle Pete tasting the juice from the stem press.