Monday, September 5, 2011

What Makes A Great Picking Party?

Champagne toast & receiving
instructions.
A swarm of locusts.
Right on schedule, Merlot Mike held the great Merlot festival on the Sunday before Labor Day, no small feat considering weather variations from year to year. This is the 7th year we've attended the harvest at Escondido Sunrise Vineyard and it's quite an event. About 80 people were on hand ranging in age from 8 months to 80 years, from as far away as Oklahoma and Australia who picked over 10,000 lbs in 3 hours. There were winemakers with their fans (including San Diego's Blue Door Winery which makes their best-selling $35 wine from this Merlot) and the Blue Thong Society, a civic organization. And of course, the cast of characters from Blue-Merle Country made an appearance to sign autographs and pick including Joe The Wino (fresh from meetings with Syrah Palin), Coyote Karen (a vineyardista dressed to the nines & freshly perfumed), Celestial Sandra chaperoning the USC cheer girls, Jim and the Vietnam-era mule 4-wheel drive vehicle, and the arch villain Fidel (that rascal).

As a kid, I used to hear stories from college students who went to France to pick grapes at the harvest. Now, we just walk to the neighbors (a bit more convenient than the trip to Europe) and what could be more fun? If you've never participated in a grape harvest, I suggest you find one and go. It's good entertainment for the whole family.

What makes for a good harvest party? Here's what I've learned from Merlot Mike over the years, with a couple of other ideas thrown in.  What recommendations do you have for us to make it better?

Check List
-- Open nets the night before (so the guests can right to work harvesting grapes)
-- Prepare buckets and clippers for the guests
Relaxing after harvest, before
the crush.
-- Blessing of the vines
-- Champagne toast (ask Jim bring his sword to make a grand show) and a good warm up speech
-- Lots of bottled water
-- Shady area to rest
-- Truckloads of food (Merlot Mike's better half Nancy makes this brisket to die for each ear). Ask the guests to bring a side dish if they are able. Need lots of food to soak up that wine.
-- Big, healthy males with strong backs
-- Nubile maidens to do some ceremonial stomping
Merlot Mike (R) with
Stone Beer in hand
with Blue Door
Winery
-- A keg of Stone Brewery Arrogant Bastard Ale (for enjoying after the picking)
-- Quality control team to pick out any large stems or leaves that make it through the crusher
-- A scale (to weigh the harvest as it comes in and the must)
-- A hose down team (to hose buckets and containers as needed)
-- A Gator, Polaris or another vehicle to haul grapes if long distances must be covered
--Samples of wine made from the vineyard.

Instructions for New Pickers
-- #1 Don't Cut Your Finger! (Merlot Mike always invites Veterinarian Don to be on hand just in case. The problem, according to Mike, is the guy who last got his finger sewed on by Don hasn't stopped barking.)
-- Raisins are good. Throw them in.
-- Leaves are bad. Keep them out of the buckets.
--If a bunch falls on the ground, pick it up, dust it off and throw it into the bin.
--A 5-gallon pail can weigh 15 lbs. or more when full. Don't strain yourself.
--Do taste the grapes.
--If your dog eats grapes, keep him at home (grapes can kill a dog).
--Stay hydrated (it takes good beer to make good wine), wear sun glasses and a hat and enjoy yourself!

What do you think makes for a great picking party?


The Sign.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great day! How do you get invited to work at the next one?

Craig Justice said...

Dear Anonymous, As Merlot Mike's harvest is on the Sunday before Labor Day each year, I suggest you mark your calendar now (and check with us a few days before to make sure the grapes are cooperating).

Anonymous said...

I will definitely do that - it looked like a lot of fun. Thanks, Jeff

Craig Justice said...

Huge THANK YOU! to Merlot Mike, Nancy, Mark and Owen for helping us bottle the Montepulciano this evening. We might not have gotten out of that black hole without you. You're fantastic neighbors.

Jeff Brock said...

Hello Craig,

Following your instructions from last year, I (Jeff) did mark my calendar. Will this event be happening again year? I'm sure you are all super busy with the opening of the new tasting room. Just let me know - would love to come out and learn about how all this works.

Jeff (formerly anonymous)

Jeff Brock said...

Craig,

I followed your instructions from last year and marked my calendar. Will there by a harvest event this year. I'm sure you are very busy with the opening of the new tasting room. If so, I'd love to come out and learn more about the whole process and lend a hand.

Jeff (formerly anonymous)

Craig Justice said...

Come one, come all. Harvest party at Merlot Mike's this Sunday, the Sunday before Labor Day, as usual. How is it that those grapes know to get ripe each year Labor Day Weekend?