The Six-Pack Gut Check to Surviving Harvest
It’s that time when the Northern Hemisphere’s vineyard workers, cellar hands, winemakers, and grape growers gear up to capture another year of bounty.
Harvest is a fitness marathon, (more on that in a future post) but beyond the physical labor, maintaining health, particularly digestive health, in this narrow window is very difficult.
So thanks to a bunch of grape friends (puns intended), here are the top six hacks they use to get through crush season:
Beyond technology, winemakers will often determine ripeness for harvest by tasting grapes in the field. But days walking vine rows, tasting grapes and fresh must (juice pre-ferment) is a whole glass of sweetness. Excess sugar can lead to very real belly aches, digestive upsets and a fermenting belly.
There’s no avoiding the sugar, but diluting its impact and reducing overall intake is critical. Alison Smith Story, co-founder of Smith Story Wine Cellars in Russian River Valley, California swears by ionized alkaline water with lemon to stay hydrated, dilute the ever-present sugar, and offset the acidity of her system during harvest.
2. The Bad Boy of Digestive Health – Yeast
“Just add flour and you can make bread out of me!” exclaimed one winemaker when I enquired about the impact of yeast on their digestive health. Yeast is everywhere during harvest - in the vineyard, on grape surfaces, airborne and inoculated in the winery and on workers’ skin. Couple this with tasting ferments and eating sandwiches, pastries and comfort carbs on night shift, yeast is arguably the biggest necessary evil of harvest.
Sadly the best way to keep under control is minimize the amount of wine consumed off hours, and keep yeast-laden food to a minimum. Many winemakers swear by restoring good flora through probiotic supplements and drinks. I’ve seen many a winery fridge with large pots of fresh yoghurt – stacked right next to the beer.
3. Dehydration is Real
Remembering to drink water can fall off the long list of things to do during harvest, but long Summer days of manual labor, together with ingesting yeast and sugar can cause excessive thirst. Drinking as much water as possible is the key to maintain a happy digestion, and it’s not uncommon to see worker’s trucks littered with five-gallon empty water containers, or workers stealing a gulp from a fresh water hose to stay hydrated.
4. Dropping Acid
Ripe white wine grape juice ranges from 6 to 8 grams of total acid, which wreaks havoc on digestion and also skin and teeth. Just look at the choppers of any maker of sparkling or high-acid white wines and you will invariably see the pocked surface of their teeth caused from years of acid wear.
Kerri Thompson, founder and winemaker of Wines by KT – a producer of exquisite razor-sharp Riesling from Watervale in Clare Valley, South Australia swears by a thorough fluoride rinse before bedtime to help restore some of the tooth enamel she loses tasting hundreds of winemaking batches and blends.
5. Coffee & other stimulants
No harvest morning really begins until the coffee is brewing, but the high acidity causes stomach issues and adds irritability to an already high-pressure environment.
Alternatives to maintain alertness and hydration without the caffeine hit include matcha, mate, tea or herbal concoctions. Smith-Story’s remedy is an iced tea concoction containing turmeric, lemon-grass, licorice root, black pepper and fresh lemon. That’s buzzworthy!
6. Eating on the Run
Eating well is tough when sleep deprived and the grapes won’t wait. Healthy eating is quickly replaced by grab-n-go gas station nosh, roadside café snacks, or worse still, not eating at all.
Winemaker Jennifer Reichardt, founder of Raft Wines kick starts her day with a green smoothie with kale, banana, frozen fruit, chia, hemp, and collagen powder or a bowl of oats soaked overnight. For others, single serves of braises, beans, stews and curries fill winery freezers and helps stave off the late night munchies. For those times when only pizza will hit the spot, Reichardt recommends an Amy’s Pizza that cooks from frozen in 14 minutes.
There you have it. Growing grapes and making wine is not all sauntering vineyard rows in dappled evening light, or cradling crimson-stained glasses of future trophy winners.
So as we wish our northern hemisphere community all the best for another abundant and high quality harvest, we are reminded that there’s no glory without guts – just make sure there’s enough probiotics to go around.
Meet The Tribe:
Our community is only as strong as the company we keep, and here we meet some of the folks who make our profession so dynamic.
Assistant Winemaker - Michael Mondavi Family Estate
Years in the Industry:
12. I started as a harvest intern at Foster Winery in Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, making Layer Cake Malbec for the US market. Then I moved to Chile before arriving in Napa Valley in July 2014 where I now work with the Michael Mondavi Family.
My Biggest Challenge To Wellness:
I can’t make my mind shut off. I am constantly thinking about what happened yesterday and what will happen tomorrow. My gears are always turning! At harvest, one of the biggest challenges is lack of sleep. Fermentations are part of my life, they are like my babies and I do everything I can to take care of them. My digestion suffers when I am under stress and harvest is the most stressful time of the year.
How I Keep It Together To Stay Well:
I live surrounded by vines and I love to go for a walk with my dogs every day. I love drawing very much and use cleaning as a way to de-stress. At work I like to write things down so I can align my thoughts and get them out of my head. When I wake up I drink warm water with lemon juice and I feel like a Superwoman! I eat boiled eggs and take ginger and cinnamon capsules to help me digest food and sugars. I call home regularly because my family is a huge support system for me.
How can we connect with you?
You can connect with me on Instagram and FaceBook or find our wines at Michael Mondavi Family Estate
What We’re Reading:
There's no shortage of wine stories and media inundating our IN Boxes. Here's what has piqued our interest this week.
A Fermentation of Ideas – Meininger’s Wine Business International
“When two television personalities were asked by the city council of Cascais, near Lisbon, to create a food event, they came up with a better idea – a wine conference that would bring some of the liveliest minds in the wine world together to encourage cross-disciplinary dialogue.”
Bobby Stuckey’s Tips for Finding Balance at Work and in Life – SevenFifty Daily
“The Master Sommelier and restaurateur shares strategies for thriving in F&B.”
Let's Meet Up!
As work life has it, we are traveling over the next few months and would love to see you. Check out details on the Let's Meet Up! page over at A Balanced Glass.
Folio Fine Wine Partners Portfolio Tasting in New York, Sept. 18 (Rebecca)
Business of Wine & Food Tourism Conference in Cape Town, Oct. 17 (Cathy)
Wine Communicator of the Year Awards in Sydney, Nov. 6 (Rebecca)
Australian Women in Wine Symposium in Sydney, Nov. 16 (Rebecca)