Friday, November 28, 2008

Cellar Rat: Week 12 at Unti Vineyards

Posted By on Fri, Nov 28, 2008 at 5:47 PM

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By Ella Lawrence

Harvest is now officially officially over. I know I've been saying this for a few weeks, but now there is absolutely nothing left for me to do in the cellar. It's been a gradual weaning-off, from the 9-hour days that left me covered in sweat and grape juice and shaking muscles to the 5-hour days that involved a lot of time spent selecting the perfect CD to play as I topped barrels (Billy Bragg & Wilco's Mermaid Avenue). Also weaning myself from the necessary 3,000 calorie days that kept me scrubbing and lifting in September to a regular food plan that doesn't involve meat, pastries, and wine several times a day.

Most of last week was spent planning our harvest party. Mick gave Sebastien the go-ahead to throw a party in the cellar, something that Seb has been wanting to do for a long time. So when we got the green light, Sebastien and Katie and I put our heads together. Sebastien went absolutely wild with the decorations: he spent one entire day power-washing the cellar, then the next day we spent getting it ready for the party. Table-tops over upended empty barrels made the bars (yes, there were three! one filled with Unti wine and another with an amazing selection from Mick's international cellar, plus a huge galvanized tub on another barrel that held all the whites and champagnes), and Sebastien strung lights around the foudres (the enormous barrels used to age Grenache) and the rest of the cellar. I spent the day putting together flowers from the gardens and set up for the caterers' arrival (the wonderful California Table).

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We had about 50 people from various wineries and restaurants come by. Harvest parties are awesome because they're thrown by, and for, all the industry people. After seeing the same people in the same industry in the same small town day in and day out, you think you might get sick of the same faces, but it's actually rare to have them all in the same room together. Everyone has been so busy making their own wine that our party was the first time I'd seen some of my friends for more than five minutes at "Ye Olde FG," Healdsburg's one coffee shop.

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The very first week I started at Unti (which seems so long ago now, though three months is barely any time at all), I remember being so content to simply hose macro-bins and stare out over the Dry Creek Valley, letting my mind rest as my body was occupied with one difficult task after another. That hasn't changed: the turning of the seasons is just as exciting as harvest-time. Each day, the leaves on the vines are a different color, from green to gold to flame red. They're about to fall off, and I like the bare gnarled vines, too. Riding to work through the thin fog that sometimes lands on the valley in the early morning, I'm reminded of a gloomy Tim Burton movie. I'm not too sad, though . . . I was offered a year-round job at Unti and am so thrilled to accept it. Now I'm the little intern that could!

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