It's that time of year again. Time for grapes to be harvested and turned into wine. Do we call this time of year "crush" because the grapes are poured into hoppers and dumped into crusher-destemmers to be de-foliated and mangled before fermenting? No, we call it "crush" because this is the time of year when forklifts are backed into doors and tanks; tractors roll down terraced hillsides; hoses get plugged up, tanks overflow, and the winery dogs sleeping on warm cement get run over.
This is how wine is made. When a winemaker refers casually to the "blood and guts" of his winery, he is probably not referring to accounts receivable or distribution channels. He is likely referring to a dismantled crusher, sitting like a beached ship among a sea of littered parts---or the last cellar worker to explode the head off a barrel of wine.
Wayne's Tire does a thriving business this time of year, catering to the ag industry, making road calls nearly 24 hours a day to replace forklift tires, tractor tires and truck tires. The wine industry here is not a tidy, large-scale industry with predictable sizes and types of mobile equipment. Small vineyards and wineries use whatever they can find and afford; picking bin trailers have varying sizes of wheels and tires, and of course they don't just go flat---they shred themselves completely in inconvenient places like terraced hillsides and highway intersections.
Electricians are also highly popular this time of year, as every critical piece of equipment except the punchdown tool runs on electricity---and huge amounts of it. And of course all these generators and presses and whatnot have signs plastered on all their panels saying, "Do Not Open" or "Hazard--Danger," so who wants to go poking around in there?
Forklifts are definitely the most popular piece of equipment during crush---being used for forklift races, diving boards over winery fire protection ponds, to hold basketball hoops, as tire jacks, and for subtly chasing snoopy tasters who wander onto the crush pad.
It's not always fun and games however, as cellar workers wade through hordes of yellow jackets, faint from fermentation fumes (whenever a cellar worker is missing he's presumed sleeping, but we all check the fermentation tanks for floating shoes), drop heavy tools, and yank the barrel washers out without turning off the hot water.
Crush is a time of excitement, of art, science and sleeplessness; something always forgotten, something always surprising. Spare tires not ordered; an exceptional offer of unexpected fruit from a small vineyard. Some things always go wrong, and some things turn out better than expected.
Like many ag industries which involve a single annual harvest, time seems to expand, encompassing exhaustive hours, used up answering machine tapes, and decisions to be made that are caterwauling for attention like hungry children. And when it is over, the winemakers will drink a cold beer together and toast to another vintage well done.