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The $tress of a Bumper Harvest

Last week I had the good fortune to be traveling through Napa and Sonoma, with harvest in full swing. Growers on both sides of the county line are predicting an outstanding year, in terms of quality and quantity alike. The latter, though, can be a scary proposition if you're a small winery. Never mind the normal stressful decisions of harvest (date of picking, time of day of picking, fermentation regime, etc.), there can be crippling pressure on the bank account.

I spent part of a day last week with a vintner who was checking in on a small block of Cabernet as it was being picked for his wine. As we watched the pickers select and clip clusters, collecting what was supposed to be a haul of about 12 tons, the vintner's phone rang. It was the winemaker calling to say that the expected crop could be closer to 18 tons. Sounds like a good problem, right?

"That's going to cost me an extra $40,000 I don't have," the vintner said as he placed his phone back in the pocket of his vest.

The next half hour was spent tasting ferments with the winemaker back at the production facility. During those 30 minutes it was clear the vintner would have much preferred whiskey. Or everclear. His mind was on his money, not his wine.

Suddenly, the winemaker's phone rang.

"Uh huh? Uh huh...Deal!"

Just like that, problem solved. The grower agreed to sell the excess tonnage to another winery if the vintner agreed to give up his contract on the fruit from a different vineyard. As luck would have it, the vintner had soured on the grapes from that land in recent years, and was ready to move on.

And that's harvest in a bumper year. It can make you, break you, then remake you in the span of half an hour.

Even though it was barely noon, it was definitely time for a drink.