Exhausting Bliss – Karla Poeschel’s experience working Harvest in Oregon
6 A.M.: Your alarm goes off. It feels like you just went to sleep 15 minutes ago, and if you’re lucky, the rooster 25 yards from where you’ve been resting your head hasn’t already robbed you of precious snooze time. If that didn’t happen, then the sound of Chance the Rapper’s “Acid Rain”—which your fellow intern has designated as your official call to duty—is likely already reverberating through your sleeping quarters, signaling the arrival of another 17 hours of work. If you’re even more fortunate, the CBD oil you’ve been bathing in for the past week has helped you sleep all the way through the night: It quells the throbbing pain that’s taken residence in your hands and forearms since manual punch-downs became an actual responsibility and not just an opportunity for a harvest selfie.
When people ask about my experience with the Brooks Harvest Internship in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, I never know where to begin. Usually the same 45–60 memories flash through my mind, evoking feelings of pure exhaustion, extreme frustration, and sheer bliss as well as recollections of serious debates about White Claw, bouts of delirious laughter, and other indelible moments. But I always wrap up this inner montage with a smile and a simple phrase: “It was really, really great.” When I applied for this internship a year ago through SommFoundation, I thought it would be a long shot given how competitive it is. However, after months of submitting applications and completing phone interviews, I finally got the call that myself and six other interns from around the world would be part of the 2019 Harvest Crew.
The hardest thing to wrap my head around was the need to reevaluate everything I thought I knew about harvest and what it entails. So often you see pictures of [insert middle-aged man/woman] in a vineyard wearing a puffer vest from [insert winery] and swirling a glass of red wine in the sun. It’s not that, but it is this: feeling bugs crawl across your neck; getting hosed in the face at 3 a.m. in 35-degree weather; enduring constantly wet socks and blistered hands; assembling and disassembling harvest machinery; sorting ice-cold fruit by hand; moving and topping off barrels; analyzing grape Brix/pH; and so on. Yet with all of this strenuous work came access to some of the most beautiful views of Oregon I’ll ever encounter as well as some of the best wine in the country— not to mention a handful of pictures of various winery pets and what I hope will be lifelong relationships with some really talented people.
One of my favorite aspects of this internship was observing how Brooks Winery practices Biodynamic viticulture. It’s a holistic, elemental approach that allows the final product to serve as the purest expression of the grapes that Brooks meticulously cultivates and selects to represent its efforts. With the help of assistant winemaker Claire Jarreau, we learned about the process of winemaking on an instinctual level. Why is sanitation so important? What about the temperatures of fermentation? What are the mechanics of an effective pumpover? What’s the best Shop-Vac for getting rid of fruit flies? The fascinating part of addressing such questions was doing so with six other individuals, all of whom have a different perspective with respect to how wine is made—and sold—in their part of the world. We became a makeshift family rather quickly as we bonded over our shared passion for this finicky intoxicant.
My usual position as a floor sommelier requires me to do something called receive inventory every Friday morning—a rather mechanical routine that starts with opening a box and placing bottles on a shelf, to put it simply. It was a process that I took for granted until the internship, but I now understand the blood, sweat, and tears that go into making each handsomely wrapped little package and, for wineries like Brooks, the relentless dedication to the land and the quality of their products. I’m so thankful to SommFoundation; my fellow interns, who put up with me wearing sunglasses in the warehouse and supplied me with 6 a.m. shots of espresso; the family I’ve made at Brooks Winery; and all the inspiration I’ve received from the Willamette Valley.