In my school orchestra, the conductor often joked — in an ongoing effort to get us up out of our sheet music — that all those Italian words on our sheet music mean the same thing: “watch the baton.” The same principle applies at harvest. Anything in Spanish means, for the purposes of a white leaf-picker, “look up and hold on.” (Of course, in either of those situations it also means “work on your language skills,” but that’s another story.) Leaf picking is the easiest, though plenty grueling, job to step into. The actual picking is done by professionals, so quickly that I can pick up vibrations in the trellis at the other end of the vine rows. The leafing job involves standing on a trailer hooked up to a tractor, pulling leaves and MOG out of the two half-ton bins on the trailer.
MOG: Material other than grape. Includes the leaves, but also includes spiders, lizards, earwigs, and sleepy frogs. Undesirable in grape production for a number of obvious reasons.
You don’t stop for anything — not your aching back, not your juice-and-grime encrusted hands, not even that one huge leaf across the bin (because it would take a long time to disentangle) — except the shouts alerting you that someone is dumping grapes in or the tractor is about to move. Both are very good reasons to get your hands out of the way, grab hold of the edge, and look at your surroundings. Eventually, I graduated to holding on with only one hand as we moved, continuing to work with the other, but I can never match the efficiency of the short Latina women working opposite.
At a recent Siebert Ranch harvest, Lena found one thing that is worth stopping for — a baby goldfinch. All that brisk, efficient picking dislodged it from its nest into a bin. We ended up taking it to the Bird Rescue Center, where it will be rehabilitated and eventually released.
Luckily, this is less common than the spiders and earwigs, but it is more exciting — and more fun. Any small breath in the relentless torrent of grapes that is harvest brings a smile to our faces, whether it is a fauna sighting, a song, or even croissants delivered by a handsome French winemaker. The last, sadly, is only about as common as the goldfinch.
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