Cellar Rat: Week Seven at Unti Vineyards

Sebastien and his ukelele!

By Ella Lawrence

Today we crushed our last lot of grapes and it was a little bittersweet. Sebastien wiped a fake tear from his eye and sniffed, “It all happens so fast!” over our celebratory lunch at Bistro Ralph’s. It seems as though we did everything to prolong the last crush today,
dragging out our start time by looking at each other’s Flickr photos from Buenos Aires, eating muffins, and playing the ukelele.

When we finally began at 11 a.m. (usually we start to crush before 10), everything that could go wrong, did. We had the usual electrical-outlet problems, requiring a lot of plug-jiggling and jerry-rigging, but we also decided to forgo using the pump because the amount that we were crushing was so small. After the 1.5 tons of whole-cluster
Mourvedre (whole-cluster means it doesn’t go through the crusher-destemmer, but comes straight from the hopper into a tank, where I’m standing and jumping up and down with all the force I can muster to crush the grapes by hand...er, foot), we had another two tons of Montepulciano.

Water sculpture.

It takes at least half an hour to set up the pump and almost an hour to clean it after use, so it made sense to crush directly into a Macro bin, but it didn’t exactly work out as planned. The tank that we needed to dump the crushed grapes into was a little small (it was the only one left, all of the other ones are full of fermenting grapes right now, the cellar is FULL), and so to dump the filled bin into the tank was an exercise in logistics, like playing tetris. I couldn’t help equating the spilled juice and grapes (which wasn’t very much) with the cost that the finished wine would fetch and was getting really stressed out as I tried to guide the grapes into the tank with a long-handled plastic rake. Also, the Macro bin wouldn’t fit properly under the crusher-destemmer, so we wound up lifting it up with the forklift and shoving wooden blocks under the wheels on one side so we could drag the bin out after the grapes were crushed into there.

I MUST make a t-shirt with this.

After one side was raised, it butted up against the sorting table (which won’t vibrate properly if it’s jammed against something), so we had to raise that piece of heavy equipment on blocks on one side. By this point, we’d spent at least a half-hour trying to hop up the equipment (all the while making plenty of jokes about the white-trash nature of propping things up on blocks) and realized we were getting into diminishing returns. I accused Sebastien of trying to drag things out because I knew he was a little sad about it being our last lot, and we all wished we had a cold beer.

Mick Unti's daughters stomping the grapes as they come in from the field.

After it was all over and we’d pressure-washed the hell out of all the equipment (can it really be true I won’t scrape the grape seeds off the crusher-destemmer until next year?) and had a long lunch, I walked down to Dry Creek.

Millie and Esther.

I love to sit on the bank of Dry Creek. Squatting down and forcing the cold water from my hands over my face and sticky hair, I imagine my ancestors doing the same thing (my grandmother’s father was a Dry Creek Pomo) and I feel like there’s nothing in the world I need that is not right at my fingertips.

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