Every winery worker has his or her own stories about the crush, the crazy weeks in the fall when the grapes have to be picked at just the right moment and crushed to start the winemaking process.
Depending on the weather that year, crush can happen early or late in autumn. It can be carefully scheduled, or rushed on an emergency basis to get ahead of a sudden oncoming storm.
But when it’s time to start the crush, it has to happen fast, and it always happens in surprising ways. It can involve, as Wayne Bailey of Youngberg Hill winery recalls, a half-truckload of grapes being accidentally dumped on a Mercedes.
Wineries bring in additional workers for the crush, and as Oregon wineries have become internationally renowned, interns have streamed in from around the world. Looking back on his experience with crush workers, Alex Sokol Blosser marvels, “I didn’t know guys could drink as much as the Australians and then rise at six the next morning and return to the field.” Even that wasn’t as memorable as the Frenchman who removed all his clothes and climbed into the vat with the grapes, explaining that everyone knew it was the only way to make wine.
The Eyrie Vineyards’ Jason Lett remembers the last crush with David Lett, a founder of the Oregon wine industry. The elder Lett’s health limited him to a small vineyard block, and he surprised his son by committing a faux pas, putting stems into the fermenter. Despite the apparent blunder, David Lett said, “This year we should.” He let the mistake go.
Months later, Jason Lett remembers, that wine had a spicy, cinnamon quality. Since that day, Eyrie is less stringent about adhering to traditional methods, and every year the crush is different and shows something new.