Wednesday, September 17, 2008

You work every day, son.

My apologies for the lack of postings these past days.  Business at the winery has gotten unreasonably busy, as planned, and I am now working 12-16 hour days on a regular basis.  Last week I worked close to 80 hours.  Grapes are coming into the winery from all corners of Oregon and Washington, and even the Santa Barbara region of California.  As the grapes come in, we must clean, sort, and de-stem them.  Then, once the sorted, de-stemed grapes are in huge vats called fermenters, yeast is added.  Then, after yeast is carefully added to each fermenter, the yeast converts the sugar from the grapes into alcohol and the whole thing stews for weeks.  After all, or close to all, of the sugar in the fermenter is converted into alcohol, the fermenters are pressed out by these huge steel drums that turn and compress the wine.  The wine is then put into barrel for many months.  Only oak barrels are used, most often from various regions of France.  Some American oak from Minnesota is used, but American oak is usually too strong and imparts harsh flavors.  While in barrel, you achieve secondary fermentation when malic acid is converted into lactic acid.  This is how you make wine.

My job involves very few of these processes.  Mainly, I clean the wine presses, clean empty fermenters, clean barrels and perform punchdowns.  Punchdowns occur when the grapes are in the fermenters.  We must physically push the grape skins and seeds down into the juice so that the remaining sugar present in the seeds and skins can be processed into alcohol.  We climb atop rows upon rows of these vats that are about 5 feet tall, 4 feet wide and 4 feet long.  We then use stainless steel plungers, about 6 feet in length and push the hardened muffin-top-like head of the grape skins down into the juice.  After doing this, we give each fermenter a healthy dose of carbon dioxide so as to kill fruit flies which can carry harmful acetobacter.  Acetobacter can cause volatile acidity when the wine is in barrel, giving the wine a vinegar taste and it can also convert sugar into ethyl acetate (EA) which gives wine the smell of nail polish.  And no one wants to drink that.

Anyways, my job can be slightly dangerous because when the yeast is converting sugar into alcohol, CO2 is produced.  CO2 in high concentrations, say the amount that is produced by 200 stewing fermenters, can cause one to pass out.  And, if you pass out into a fermenter, it will most likely not end well for you.  Also, CO2 is heavier than air, so if you fall off a fermenter, or pass out, and end up on the ground where there is more CO2, it will not end well for you.  But, after standing on countless shaky Appalachian roofs, its quite easy for me to balance.  Also, we open the door first to let the CO2 out.

Jerry my boss has the utmost confidence in me.  Much like Ross Abrams, who always told me he had the utmost confidence in me.  However, what this really translates to is, "you better not mess up."  Jerry thinks I am some kind of master contractor.  He'll say something like, "Hey, you're good at X (which you probably are not) and then will set you to this task for which you are not prepared.  For example, Jerry said to Charlie one day, "Hey Charlie, you're good with chairs right?"  To which Charlie replied, "What... no..."  So Jerry said, "Well, I want you to go around this place and find all the broken chairs and fix them for me."

Last week, Jerry says to me, "So you're good with concrete right?" 
"Well, kind of..." (I am really not at all)
Jerry replied, "Well, I want you to help these contractors tear up this concrete in the floor of the winery and help install a new drain system."
I would have given all the wine in all the world to have Kevin or Marion there...or Ross.... or even UBS man.  But alas, I was set to the task alone.

As always, I was going along with my task and a professional would come over and be like.... "son, what are you doing?"
"I'm putting in this concrete."
To which every pro I have ever met replies, "No."  Then they show me how to do it.  Thanks to the help of several local legends, who spit dip juice, swore heavily and drove an American flag painted cement truck, I achieved the task and (helped) put in the new drain system in the Owen Roe winery.  I just hope tomorrow Jerry doesn't say, "Hey Andy, you're good with brain surgery right?" or "Hey Andy, you're good with hog-tying sheep right?"   ....but I wouldn't rule it out.


quote of the day - this song has been in my head all week, its from The Band

Back with my wife in Tennessee, When one day she called to me,
"Virgil, quick, come see, there goes Robert E. Lee!"
Now I don't mind choppin' wood, and I don't care if the money's no good.
Ya take what ya ned and ya leave the rest,
But they should never have taken the very best.

Like my father before me, I will work the land,
Like my brother above me, who took a rebel stand.
He was just eighteen, proud and brave, but a Yankee laid him in his grave.
I swear by the mud below my feet,
You can't raise a Caine back up when he's in defeat.


Christopher J said...


Do you have to wear some sort of beard net so as to disallow your immense red beard from shedding into the vats of fermenting wine?



Anonymous said...

Back in the day, when I was a young lad much like you are now, I had a laborer job at a factory that made roof shingles. There were many jobs in there that they told us young lads to do, some hot, some sticky, some smelly, some required skills, some did not, some dangerous, some safe.

Well, as it turns out, a foreman named Dewey Sainer, a decent guy with years of time at the plant, was the one who handed out the jobs individually in the morning to all of us young lads that we would perform for that day. Needless to say, training was minimalized and by 7:05 am we were totally engulfed in our job of the day, not really being safe or knowing what we were doing.

Well, I was being assigned day after day to the laminator shingle line and given the worst job on that line. I would struggle each day, sweating my behind off, cracking shingles in half, then feeding them into a device one by one as they went down the line. I also had to apply solvent to the line as well as unjam the equipment whenever it jammed. This was taking it's toll on me, but in those days I would "just shut up about it" as Lt. Dan used to tell his soldiers in Forest Gump. But I soon noticed that there were many, many other jobs that could also be assigned to me that were much less severe, and I even knew how to do too. I did not mind doing my share, but fair is fair.

So I spoke to the Plant Manager from the sister division a little ways down the street, who used to walk through our plant and stop and look around and say hello now and then, about it, who was a wise man because he had risen from the ranks of laborer, where I currently was, had handled a variety of jobs around the plant in his day, jobs with quite a lot of responsibility, and was thus well respected and liked too.

He thought it over and said to me, "Well, when old Dewey comes to handing out the jobs in the morning instead of just saying nothing and trudging off to the same old position, just try saying in a nice way, 'Hey Dewey, how about putting me somewhere else once in a while, OK?'".

So the next day, nervously, I tried it and to my surprise it worked out very well. I was able to move around and perform other jobs that were better and he even asked me to work with him personally a couple times, once rodding sewers, where he could see how much of a good worker I really was.

So, young lad, do it in a respectful way, but when you need to speak up, just go ahead and speak up. I know how good of a worker you are as do half the folks in East Central Kentucky by now, few of us can keep up with you, and I also know that you are willing to do the dirty work just the same as the next young lad, however safety and reasonableness should factor in too.

But remember what your grandfather said to me in the above part of this story and now I officially impart his wisdom on to you.

By the way, feel free to pray to him if you need guidance about your jobs, decisions, or any troubles. He perch fishes regulary witht the Biggest Guy and is quite close to him.

dies irae said...

CO2?! I am guessing that the global warming crowd either hasn't paid attention or else they don't want to jump on this one resulting in them losing their wine sippage.

Keep up the posts, it's good to know what you're up to.