Adventure Harvesting Grapes in Mexico

My friend, Ken, and I headed down to Mexico to pick up some grapes from a vineyard he knew about down there. He has a beach house in Kino Bay and was very familiar with the area.

Crush season is always hectic, as you just get one variety going in the fermenter, when the next one becomes ready for picking. This was the case for me, as I picked Tempranillo at a vineyard in Vail on Saturday,  brought the grapes home to0 crush and de-stem them,  made the acidity adjustments, sulfite addition, and  the brix and pH measurements. I’m trying to say this was a long day.

Our plan was to head down on Sunday, 8/22, to Ken’s place, where we’d enjoy the ocean and local scenery, get a good night’s sleep,  get up early on Monday to get the grapes, and drive back to Tucson with them to start crushing. Again, it was going to be a long day, but it seemed simple enough.

We had a great trip down and managed to talk to the guy at the vineyard (Cilvano) who was helping us out. Ken said he’d like to get an early start and meet him at around 7. Cilvano had a different idea of “early” and said how about early like 8, or maybe 9, or 10? We agreed to meet at 9:30 the next morning.

Having made the plans, we now were free to enjoy the hot, humid weather. The ocean was as warm as a bath, but at least there was a bit of a breeze late in the evening to make it feel a little cooler.

We got up early the next morning and had a liesurely breakfast,  packed up the car and headed to the vineyard. It was nice and cool in the morning, but I could tell it was going to be a warm one.

On the way out of town, we were stopped by a policeman. He told us the road was out, but we might be able to get around it with our car saying, “posible o posible no”. We drove up and checked it out, and could see that water pooled up on both sides of the road had undercut the road bed, causing it to collapse.  It’s a good thing the first driver to come up on it was able to stop in time. We decided that driving through the deep water was no posible and turned back.

Frustrated, we drove around and tried to find another way around. We followed a thin road out in the soggy desert that returned back to the highway on the same side of the washed out road. We had no choice but to go back into town and wait.

A couple of hours later, we found out that a detour had been made around the damage roadbed, so we headed back and sure enough, there was an off-road detour we could now take that had been cleared out with the help of some heavy equipment. We took the detour and got around the problem area very quickly.

While waiting in town, we had talked to Cilvano to let him know we’d be delayed, but now we were on our way, 2hrs behind schedule and it wasn’t getting any cooler. We saw grapes being loaded into large bins when we arrived, by heavily sweating workers. The Carignane vines there are 40 years old and are heavy producers.

Cilvano and the vineyard manager, Guadalupe, were happy to find us some help to harvest the grapes and we got started. I did notice a pervasive smell of vinegar in the area and asked Guadalupe to let the workers know that we didn’t want any rotten grapes. Vinegar isn’t a problem if you’re making brandy, but it sure matters if you’re making wine.

We asked Guadalupe how late the pickers worked and he told us they would tell him when they were done, saying “no more, because of the heat”!

The grapes were hot and I feared spoiling fast, so we got them loaded quickly and cranked on the AC to try to cool them down. I had an interesting exchange with Guadalupe with my poor Spanish and his slightly better English, but he had no idea that such a thing as frozen carbon dioxide existed.  So, it looked like we were going to have to make a run for the border.

We actually had very little trouble at the inspection stations, but lots of surprised looks. The inspectors would ask where we were from, where we were going, what were we carrying and we’d tell them. Theyd look in a couple of buckets and ask if all the rest were also full of grapes. When we said yes, their eyes would widen and they’d ask whether we wanted them for eating or wine-making. We answered “por Vino”, of course, and they’d smile appreciatively, nod, and tell us to have a nice day. I don’t speak much Spanish, but I know enough to discuss beer and wine.

It took us about 6hrs to make it back to Tucson and we spent the evening sorting, crushing/destemming, and pressing a little to make a rose. It’s all in the fermenters now and working away.  It was a nice weekend adventure, but I am happy we’re done.

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