The following is the third in a three-part recollection of my time spent in Alsace last autumn for harvest at a winery called Sipp Mack in Hunawhir, a little village with a rich history, much of which is knee-deep in grape juice. Here are more stories from the vineyard. (Read Part I here, and Part II here.)
The last day of my harvest was wet. I say “my” because the weather created a strange rhythm for the harvesters and a few more days after my departure will be required to collect all the crop, Riesling especially, Grand Cru especially. We hadn’t touched those yet, they’re the true gems of production, too. The rain is persistent and though the forecast predicted that Thursday to be moderately clear, it’s teeming rain by the time we hit the vines, each row lined with what quickly becomes shin-deep mud. I left my jacket home, and my vest is soaked through. There’s no warmth in baggy latex gloves and the water and Pinot Gris juice fill them anyway, so they’re abandoned pretty quickly. All of us out there look like weary wanderers, plastic bags and other makeshift endeavors manufactured around heads and hands. I give up after a bit, I am just damp.
The rain stops in time for me to be ready for it, but the mud persists. On either side of every row there’s a patch of grass or a train of mud, I think caused by the occasional drive through of a tractor. It doesn’t take long for the partner on the mud side to accumulate additional pounds of the mortar-like grass-and-dirt combination caked to the bottom of the boots. My wellies have finally given up and cracked along the ankle, making for a significant slosh in between my toes.
That day last day in the vineyard took away much of the romantic notion of grapes ripening on the vine. The combination of rain and warmer evenings means the grapes are more prone to mold, and though it’s not universal, some of them are so fuzzy it’s hard to believe anything good can come of them. The mold makes them more fragile, more prone to turning on the vine, so we submit them to a sniff test: does it smell like vinegar? No? Into the bucket it goes! The juice will be cleaned up significantly before the winemaking begins, so no harm, no foul.