Labor of Love
Writer Lara Piu
Photographers Jenelle Bonifield and Brenna Zumbro
By the time the day’s first light washes over the vineyard, granting it warmth, the volunteers have been working for several hours. They are mothers, daughters, workers, lovers of wine and other people of the harvest tapestry. It’s an eclectic group, but in this moment, the grapes unite them.
It takes a large crowd to harvest, yet those who show up remain among an elite group of wine lovers who get to meet the fruit face-to-face and send her on to her destiny. They know she endured a long metamorphosis to meet them. Yet unlike the harvesters, her grapes come from the same walk of life.
In the beginning, she is nothing really, pruned down early each spring for a fresh start. Within weeks, she chirps a teeny-tiny sprout that marks the beginning of her transformation. The bud break will reveal if and how the weather has affected her. A mild winter could make her uneven; a wet one could lead to excessive growth.
“We’ll have to see,” says the Arizona vineyard manager.
At least he’ll never have to worry about water, which is ironic in the desert. Wine grapevines turn out to be the perfect desert plant; they need relatively very little water compared to most crops. Natural springs and pumping wells make the job even easier. Luckily, there’s plenty of sun, too — something a grape could always use.
Next, she makes everyone wait. They call it the fruit set. She calls it taking her time. Soon she will reveal the color and texture that signals her ripening. She makes it worth their wait; the payoff will be sweet. He tends to her carefully. He makes adjustments to the drip irrigation. He keeps an eye on weather patterns and monsoons. He waits again.
As harvest time approaches, she prepares for her debut. They’re excited to see her. Some travel for miles. Any time between August and September, depending on the monsoons, she welcomes the latest crop of friendly-faced, hardworking volunteers to harvest her. Hopefully they won’t need her to dry out and regain her composure if a harsh rain rolls in. Alas, should that be the case, she’ll recover like she always does. Every lady is also one tough chick.
Then, when everything is right, the first harvest begins.
“We don’t always know if the grapes are headed for a wood or a steel barrel, but we do always know that we don’t harvest until the time is right.”
A caring hand greets each delicate grape.
So much thought has gone into this process. Before she was ever pruned or picked, her maker even planned her vineyard well. Her rows were spaced to her vigor accordingly. The soil prepared with lime, nitrogen, compost and other ingredients for pH balance. Oodles of expensive equipment was purchased so the vines could be properly tended to. The list goes on.
In the end, it’s worth it. Not for more sales, rave reviews, an award or even a paycheck. Everyone involved, from volunteer to vintner… they do it all for her.