“The Cellar hand”

2019: Day 5

They say it takes 20,000 hours to become an expert in any given field.
When you’re 18 with your whole life ahead of you, that’s no bid deal.  That’s roughly 12 years working a regular day job.  Most of us reading this know very well that it felt like a blink of an eye between 18 and 30 and even after that there’s plenty of gas in the tank for one or two career changes.  But when you’re in your 50’s, it’s pretty tough starting over.  There’s a certain comfort in getting good at your chosen craft where it’s easy to get into a rhythm and develop an intuition.  I found this particularly true with problem solving.  30 years in an industry provides that ‘spider sense’ on how to solve a problem, or better yet, avoid them in the first place.  But starting over again, there isn’t that comfortable rhythm.  There’s no ability to put your mind in cruise control.  And you simply can’t apply intuition because there’s no history – no muscle memory – to fall back on.  The water is pretty shallow.  It’s like learning how to walk and think through every step.  Don’t get me wrong; this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Learning is invigorating.  Challenging yourself is great at any age.  It can be breathtaking, exhilarating and the satisfaction of actually becoming good at something new can bring tears to the eyes.  You can really feel alive.
When we started this project, I remember reading (I forget exactly where) that starting a winery is amongst the toughest of all small businesses. There’s the viticulture side of things (growing our raw products) which can take generations to really master on any parcel of land.  There’s the production side of the business – the winemaking.  Unlike working with, say, concrete, where the properties are always the same with few variables, producing wine from grapes can have its challenges especially if the grapes aren’t perfect.  Then there’s the sales and marketing, social media and distribution channel of things.  Oh, let’s not forget the government regulations and political landscape associated with producing, storing and selling alcohol.  Of course there’s human resources.  That’s a lot and nobody who enters this industry has expert experience in all these areas. I think that’s pretty cool. Of all the things that are new to us, it’s the winemaking that scares me the most.  It just seems like a lot can do wrong, tragically wrong, in a very short period.  Mess up a 5,000 litre tank of Riesling and that can be for your profits next year – or worse.
Our plan is to make the wine ourselves but to lean heavily on a good consultant until we feel ready to take off the training wheels.  As much as it scares me, it’s the part I’m looking forward to most … except for working in the tasting room and talking about wine.  We’re planning to start this next year.  However, this year I had the really good fortune to work as a cellar hand at Moraine winery where we’ve had our first wines made.  Cellar hands are basically assistants who largely work with the ‘mechanics’ in a winery – connecting hoses, setting up pumps, cleaning, cleaning and more cleaning.  My focus was largely around the time of ‘the crush’ when grapes are harvested through to when the last ones are pressed to extract fermented juice from the skins.  I think cellar hands are typically in their early 20’s – not old goats like me.  So, staring at a career from this side of the hill was a little intimidating.
I can’t thank Dwight and Amber enough for their patience and willingness to answer 1001 really dumb questions.  The experience was invaluable.  Much of winemaking can be learned from books, but the practical side simply can’t.  Questions like “what kind of tanks should I consider buying?” are pretty important but there’s no body of knowledge to leverage.  Working with different tanks and understanding some of the nuances is huge looking forward.  Over the course of the 8ish weeks I was there, about 100 tons of grapes were processed into wine (including our 8 tons).  That will be about 70,000 bottles.   Give or take.  And this is considered a small production.  For anyone who thinks winemaking is an elegant job, guess again.  I would guess that it’s 10% art, 20% science and 70% roll-up-the-sleeves-and-get-sh!t-done especially in a small operations like ours will be.  The percentages may be off by a bit, but there are a lot of long hard days of heavy lifting.
So, today we’re celebrating my first entry-level job since 1986.  I thought about calling this the ‘mullet’ as a throwback to ’86 when I was last in this situation, but no – just no.  Of all the things I learned (and there was a lot), winemakers prefer beer over wine.  I guess when you work with something day in and out, a change is nice.  So, today’s drink is beer based.  I think many winemakers are also foodies (Dwight and Amber are no exception) so this drink had to include food.  I also thought it would be appropriate to add a southeast Asian influence (though I couldn’t manage Thai).  Here’s what’s in the drink:
  • 8 ounces Clamato juice
  • 5 ounces dark beer (pilsner was used but dark would be a better choice)
  • 1 ounce chili infused wine “The Flame” from Silver Sage
  • 0.5 ounces of Kim chi brine (any more would over-power the drink).  Kim chi in really modest levels adds a bit of heat but more importantly a lot of depth
  • heavy dash of Worchestershire sauce
Garnish with prawns and pickled green beans (it fell… you can see it on the bottom right) and line the glass with lime juice and chilli power (smoked murato in this case)
Thanks again guys – you rock!  150 hours down, and 19,850 to go.

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