Like human beings, a wine's taste is going to depend a great deal on its origins and its upbringing. – Linda Johnson-Bell
Harvest season began at Fence Stile with our first harvest last Sunday. This marks the beginning of our busiest time in every aspect of Fence Stile. This season is when we have the most requests for tours, trolleys, tour busses, and events. It is the best time to see the vineyards. Since our tasting room is surrounded by vineyards, there isn’t a bad view on the entire property. Our tasting room is busy with first-time guests and long-time friends. The vineyards have non-stop activity as we get ready for harvest. The winery is busy emptying tanks, prepping for new grapes, and getting crush equipment back in use after a 10-month hiatus.
The August weather has been highly unusual for the Midwest. Last Sunday was no exception. The team considered many scenarios and contingency plans for the day to prepare for when nature determines the grapes are ready. Volunteers and team members harvested nearly 2.8 tons of Vignoles destined for the tall blue bottles that everyone loves. This week marked the beginning of the smell of fermentation wafting into the tasting room, stains on our fingernails and clothes from harvest, and the careful dance with Mother Nature as we work to get our grapes from the vineyards through the transformation process of becoming wine.
While harvest is an event, it is really the finale of almost a year of work. The grapes we harvest will reflect a year of sunshine, rain, frost, wind, temperature fluctuations, decisions made about canopy management, spraying, suckering, and more. Every decision made and everything Mother Nature serves us will be reflected in the grapes and, ultimately, in the wine. It is impossible to make good wine out of bad grapes. Every delicious sip starts with the vineyards and then, after harvest, our job is make sure we continue to shepherd the winemaking with the same diligence we gave to the grapes.
In preparation for this week, we have made and revised plans, ordered supplies and spares, repaired equipment, cleaned, sanitized, checked equipment we haven’t used since last harvest, refreshed ourselves with the controls of the equipment, and recalled past failures to ensure the lessons learned are part of the new plan and contingency planning. The practice and mental dry-runs are no different than preparing for the big game, the big event, or even the eclipse. You get one shot to get it right!
In preparation for the coming weeks, we have stocked up on water, Gatorade, snack packs, first aid supplies, favorite beverages, and even added a Bose wireless speaker. We can take turns connecting our phones to share our favorite music with the team to help get through the long days. We have talked about the intensity of the events with a team that has not been through this together yet. Tensions will be high. “Please” and “thank you” are intended, even if not spoken. Forgiveness is implied if voices are raised in a heated moment. We have the need to share neck rubs and jokes to help get through the long days. We are moving into seven-day work weeks, knowing that the next few months will be intense. Social commitments will be minimal and our family and friends will be supportive as we grind through long days. We will need our sense of humor, a common objective, and each other to help us stay motivated.
This last weekend, we were reminded that while we feel this intensity and drive, so do our guests. With one-half of a row left to pick, the odd August sky turned from a cool, cloudy, comfortable one to a dark rainy one. As the rain came down, we told our volunteer picking crew to head inside the tasting room, dry off with the towels stacked inside the door, sit by the fireplace, and enjoy a glass of mulled wine while we get lunch ready. They did not. Not one person walked away. Our incredible volunteers said they came to harvest and they were not leaving the last of the row without finishing the harvest! This is the what we all work for – this is why we are an estate winery!
Relationships are built, friendships are made, memories from previous harvest are shared, stories are told, new memories are created and, in the process, we make wine to be shared with loved ones.
My team, a talented group of individuals, will come together to marry the art and science of viticulture and viniculture. Our hope is to express the best of nature, our drive, and our passions by creating something extraordinary to share with family, friends, and loved ones. My hope is that once we have discovered each other’s musical tastes, created new memories and stories, shared a bottle on the crush pad at the end of a very long day, forgiven, and learned from the missteps, celebrated the wins, and held each other up, we emerge as a strong family. Every vintage has a story. I am excited to see our 2017 harvest story unfold.
Owner and founder
Fence Stile Vineyards and Winery
Creative director Pete Dulin documents wine, food and operations at Fence Stile Vineyards and Winery through writing and photography.