The following is an excerpt from 50 Tips for Cellar Rats, available from Amazon and Lulu.
Do you want to work harvest at a winery?
Are you looking for excitement? Want to learn more about wine production? Do you want to sink your hands into a bin of warm, fermenting, aromatic must and breathe deeply of the perfume of terroir?
Working crush at a winery is one of the most exciting work opportunities in the world. You will be working with men and women who are simultaneously artists and scientists, farmers and celebrities.
Wine is an industry that revolves around the land, the magic of soil, and a luxury product that is fragile and yet has been known to improve over decades. Like music, wine is an industry where math, art, and passion combine, and where humble artisans can become stars overnight.
The wine industry has a lot of fans, and many of those fans would like to be a part of it, if even for a few magical moments.
And this is where you come in.
If you are considering full-time winery work without previous winery experience, many wineries offer internships as a way of testing your mettle. Lots of full-time employees started out as harvest volunteers or interns, passed the initiation of harvest, fell in love with the job, and stayed.
First of all, be prepared to work hard, and to get cold and wet. If you seriously want to work as a harvest volunteer or intern, prepare your body and mind as you would for an athletic event.
Sure, there are lots of folks who do a 5-day working vacation at wineries eager to sell bed-and-breakfast space, or who help their friends who own wineries.
But a true cellar rat—a designation of fond praise within the industry—will be the last person on the crushpad, hosing all the muck out of the crusher on a cold and frosty October evening after the winemaker and his entourage have all retired to a warm and well-lit restaurant.
To be a true cellar rat means you have begun to earn the winemaker’s trust. You are left alone to operate powerful electric machinery that could rip your arm off. The winemaker knows that every hidden crevice of the machinery will be washed and sanitized, the crushpad will be broomed and hosed, the equipment and fittings washed and put away, the hoses washed and coiled and every detail prepped for the next day’s activity.
It is at this moment you will know you have arrived. And you will treasure this moment forever.
At first, you’ll be feeling blue, even mad, that you are stuck with all the grungy, wet, freezing-ass-cold cleanup while everyone else is off partying. But since you clearly have nothing else on your social horizon, you’ll spend some extra effort on the clean up. Then you’ll notice the surreal quiet, and the beauty of the night beyond the crushpad—the singing frogs, coyotes yipping, dancing bats, a sky so laden with stars that it droops toward earth.
And when you finally stop and go inside for a glass of wine in a chilly cellar that actually feels like a spa after working in the crust of an October night, you will stand there in your stained pants, wet shirt, soaked shoes and socks and give thanks for the experience.
Right. Well, so much for fantasy. You've got a long way to go before any winemaker is going to trust you with his machinery, his wine, and his livelihood.
But with work, patience and humility you can get there. You can become a true cellar rat.
I want to prepare you for a grueling, exciting experience as a winery volunteer, cellar rat or intern. Working harvest at a winery involves some serious fun. We’re talking good food, good wine, and good company, along with some extracurricular surfing, horseback riding, white water rafting, and a lot of beer drinking.
In this guide, you are going to hear me say don’t do this and don’t do that.
You are going to hear me say this a lot.
I want to help you avoid the kinds of mistakes that don’t get you invited back. Or worse, make you infamous. Yes, I see you rolling your eyes. But by the time you finish reading this eGuide, you will know that there is an industry roster of the Most Royal Muck Ups of All Time.
In this guide, I will not be giving you instruction on what cleaning materials to use, how to clean a tank or barrel properly, or how to use lab equipment. These procedures vary widely from winery to winery.
What I can share with you are tips on making the job easier, how to succeed, and how to prepare.