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Adventures In Hauling Grapes

I have now hauled a total of 14 tons of grapes from our vineyard on Greenwood Ridge. About half of that went to Sonoma and half to Forestville. The Forestville drive is shorter and the roads are nicer. My first load went to Sonoma and I used Google Maps to get directions and they were good and got me right there, though they took me on some funny small back roads (at least they were clear of traffic). I only hauled 2.5 tons that time and it was pretty easy, not too heavy and a good start to my “trucking career.” The second and third loads went to Forestville; the first was a heavy 4.5 tons and that was a whole different thing for me. The back of the load was more mobile and I had to go much, much slower. The third load was lighter and went smoothly.

Now we come to my fourth, and final load. The whole thing was actually an adventure. It started with our having four extra tons of fruit; we thought with what we wanted for ourselves and what we had sold that we would pretty much empty the vineyard, but after what was supposed to be our last pick, we realized that we had between three and four tons left. That caused a bit of a scramble as we called various Zinfandel producers hoping to find someone interested in our fruit. Our first call actually yielded a positive response — but in a call back, so we had actually called a few places before we knew we had success. We then had to line up a crew to help pick (we had the best crews this year!) and get our bins all ready to go.

Friday morning arrived and at just after 7am we were ready to get started. The day was blissfully cool, even a touch cold, which for outdoor work is just perfect. We had eight bins set and two of us to work on sorting the fruit as it was dumped into the bins. This wasn't too hard a job at first; the fruit was gorgeous, so it was mainly just pulling a few leaves. But then we hit a patch with some botrytis (aka noble rot), so we had to pull this out. Again, not too bad, until we had filled all the bins and needed to get one more. Suddenly the pickers were ahead of us and we were digging through a foot of grapes to make sure we got all the icky stuff out. We ended up with eight full bins and one half-full bin, another very heavy load. It was about noon, so we quickly took showers and ate some lunch and got on the road.

The original plan was for me to take this load solo, but at the last minute my husband decided to go along as well (something I was very grateful for later). With a heavy load I was already primed to take my time and that is what I did. We were fortunate not to face a lot of traffic and only one road construction stop on 128; we hit more traffic as we got to Santa Rosa, but because there were two of us we were able to use the carpool lane. At about 4pm we called the winery to let them know to expect us in about 30 minutes. I was going to roughly the same location in Sonoma (across the street) that I had gone last time, so I used the same route as before. That probably was my first mistake. This load was much heavier and that back end was still a bit slippery, though we had tightened it down considerably because of that.

The route on the back roads of Sonoma was narrow and very rough. We did fine until about three turns before the winery (about 1 mile from it); I crossed a small bridge and it was very bouncy. I was only doing about 20mph but had I known how rough it was, I would have only been doing about 10. I watched the load in my rear view mirror and it seemed Ok; it bounced a bit, but everything was in its place. Then I took the next turn, a left hand turn, and then we both heard and felt something that wasn't right. I slowed and my husband looked in his mirror — and there on the side of the road was one of our bins. Good God, I'd lost a bin, which weighs about 1,000 pounds.

As bad things go, it couldn't have been better. There was room to pull off the road, which I did; however, this was probably the only stretch for a mile on each side with that much room. I then walked back to the bin and saw to my amazement that the bin was still upright and almost completely full; there was only a small pile of grapes on the ground, about 30-40 pounds. We now had two problems: the other bin, while still on the trailer, was hanging off just a bit and, again, at 1,000 pounds, it was too heavy to lift or even shove much. The other bin, of course, was on the ground, with no way to lift it onto the trailer.

Just then one of two Samaritans stopped and gave us a hand. The first was Mike from a local vineyard management company, who had a load of empty bins. He offered to let us use one of them; so he and my husband pushed the bin that was still on the trailer back up and over to where it needed to go (they also used a ratchet, which I was in charge of), then they put the empty bin in place. We backed the trailer up to the bin on the ground and started to put the grapes into the new bin, by hand. This is when our second Samaritan arrived, Ralph, who just happened to have a pitchfork in his pickup. A few minutes later we had forked the grapes from one bin to the other. Mike also had a garbage bag so we were able to pick up the grapes that had fallen out and bring them home to our horses (who love grapes). All in all, it added an extra hour to our trip, but if you are going to lose a bin of grapes, it couldn't have been a better way to do it.

That was the end of the main adventure, but not the end of our day. We found the winery, after a little confusion on my part, and then waited for them to process the bins so we could take our empties home. (Mike said to just leave his bin there and he would pick it up later; in fact, when we arrived, I saw several of this company's bins already there.)

We were finally on the road home just before 7pm. We had to stop in Forestville to pick up another load of empty bins and by the time we got there it was dark. This was a problem because for some reason the wiring in my truck and the wiring on the trailer were not 100% compatible and we didn't have any taillights (a fact that the two CHP who had been behind me just south of Santa Rosa didn't seem to be concerned about); about 30 minutes later we had one taillight on the left and one turn signal on the right. It wasn't ideal, but it was better than nothing.

By now it was after 8pm and we were hungry, so we decided to have dinner there in Forestville. We ate at a nice enough Italian restaurant that makes its own pasta; our salads were delicious as was our pork shoulder and white bean appetizer, but our main courses were only so-so: my shrimp were fishy and his noodles were gritty. It was 10pm before we were on the road again.

I managed to drive until just south of Boonville, but then I had to give up. My husband took over and the next thing I knew, we were home — and it was midnight. Talk about a long day!

Despite being tired, we felt good — our harvest was done and we'd sold all of our grapes; more, in fact, than we had realized we had. We had survived our little bin drama and met some really nice folks along the way. All in all, it was a good way to end the harvest.


  1. Charlotte Saunders October 15, 2014

    brave but exciting

  2. John Zucker October 15, 2014

    Such is winemaking. I understand the grapes have to be picked and crushed the same day. Did the winery start crushing at 8:00PM? Yes, very long day!

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