Small wineries rely on volunteers to crush grapes

The magic happens here.

In the alley of a drab industrial complex in Woodinville, giant bins of grapes begin the journey to their fermented fate as wine.

It’s crush time.

Get those “I Love Lucy” images out of your head. Grapes are stomped by machines, not dancing feet.

Much is hands-on labor: Sort grapes. Destem. Pick leaves. Clean bins. Push brooms. Swat bees.

Repeat.

Think you got what it takes to help liberate the contents of the berries?

Many small wineries rely on volunteers to keep operating costs down. Volunteers are fed lunch and go home with wine.

“We punched down some vats this morning and stirred things up,” said volunteer Mike Poole, 50, of Seattle, semi-retired from the Air Force. “It’s fun to get out and see how all this stuff comes together. And I get a bottle of wine at the end of the day.”

Some volunteers are aspiring vintners and college interns. Yes, you can get a degree in winemaking.

“A lot have day jobs. They enjoy coming out and seeing how it happens,” said John Patterson, owner of Patterson Cellars.

“We try to pay them X number of dollars in wine. The formula is like $15 an hour in wine.”

The foreplay of winemaking isn’t as romantic as it might seem.

“It’s much more work than one would imagine,” Patterson said. “It’s not like you’re going to get dirty, you just get sticky.”

Crush season runs around Labor Day and extends through October.

“We process fruit seven days a week,” said Patterson, who crushes for about 20 wineries in this complex, known as the Warehouse District.

Volunteers work alongside winery employees. That collaborative spirit extends among wineries. During crush, boutique winemakers help each other out.

The once sleepy town of Woodinville has become a wine and libation mecca.

“There are about 100 tasting rooms and wineries in Woodinville,” said Patterson, co-chairman of Woodinville Wine Country. “We have five breweries and five distilleries.”

Who knew?

“A lot of people who live here have no idea,” he said.

The concentration of boutique wineries in the Warehouse District at the north end of town lets people explore tasting rooms on foot.

“There are 38 wineries and tasting rooms in this park,” said Patterson, who has a tasting room here and in the Hollywood Hill area of Woodinville.

Typically, bottling is in the spring and summer. Bottling volunteers also get wined and dined and it’s not so sticky.

Terry Munson likes the rush of crush.

“The experience is sensory as opposed to sitting in front of a computer,” said longtime volunteer Munson, 49, an Internet content specialist.

A bee cozies up to his arm as he stabs a giant plastic pitchfork at 1,000 pounds of grapes from a bin tilted by a forklift. Clusters fall into a pan overseen by Munson and a few other bare-handed guys who work in swift harmony to scoot grapes onto the conveyer hopper leading to a pneumatic press.

Munson ignores the pesky bee. After all, he has never been stung in his years pitching in here.

“I volunteered at a tasting room event, and it kind of took off from there. I was curious about the process,” he said. “I don’t plan to be a winemaker.”

He enjoys the fruit of his labor another way.

“It’s kind of fun to be at a dinner party and I’ll pull something out and say, ‘Yeah, I helped crush this,’” he said.

Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; abrown@heraldnet.com.

Want to crush?

To volunteer: Call 425-483-8600; email info@pattersoncellars.com; or go to www.pattersoncellars.com.

Crush &Sip: This special event, noon to 5 p.m. Oct. 25 and 26 at Woodinville Winery, involves stomping some grapes and learning about the winemaking process.

The Woodinville Winery &Tasting Room is at 19501 144th Ave. NE, Suite D-600, Woodinville.

Crush Me. Squeeze Me. Make Me Wine: Westport Winery’s beach festival is from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.

The winery, between Westport and Aberdeen, will have bins of grapes for guests of all ages to stomp into purple-footed bliss.

At 3 p.m., the winery will judge the annual Lucy and Ethyl Look-alike Contest open to men, women, children and dogs.

The free fest includes music, art and free chicken soup.

Westport Winery is at Highway 105 and South Arbor Road.

For more information call Westport Winery at 360-648-2224 or go to www.westportwinery.org.

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