A View Back on Harvest

On April 9, 2014 by Rebekah Wineburg

In 2013 we were extremely lucky to have Samantha Amberg join the team as a harvest intern.  Sam was a joy to work with, always, and has kindly shared her reminiscence of harvest 2013.


“Wine makes every meal an occasion, every table more elegant, every day more civilized.” -Andre Simon

The California sun is barely peeking its vermeil face through the trees, but the winery is already bustling with the excitement and hurried preparation of a hospital delivery room. Each purposeful movement is swiftly carried out, as machinery is wheeled into place and gaskets are fastened. After months of pruning, irrigating, tasting, and careful monitoring, harvest has finally arrived. Today Buccella and its staff will become the proud parents of 10 tons of exquisite Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. And I, a wide-eyed harvest rookie, am lucky enough to be a part of this incredible family.

Last year, if someone had told me that I would be working at a boutique winery in Napa Valley, I would have laughed. My passion for wine was sneaky, gradually filling up my free time and edging into my mind while I was busy finishing up a Bachelors of Science degree in biology. By the time graduation rolled around, I had to face the facts: I loved wine and needed to find a way to get involved in the industry.  By a stroke of luck, I was put in touch with Buccella’s superb and aptly named winemaker, Rebekah Wineburg. After many emails and a thoroughly twenty-first century Skype interview (I was on the East Coast at the time), she invited me to join the Buccella harvest team; an invitation I delightedly accepted.

Harvest time at a winery is difficult to describe, the best word I can think of is full: the days are full, the tanks are full, and your heart is full. The appearance of the morning’s harvest is by far the most exhilarating moment of each day. When the team arrives at the winery, we efficiently carry out our roles and then the wait begins. Even if it is only minutes before the truck chock-full of picking bins turns the corner, it feels like hours; like a soon-to-be father we are anxious to greet the new arrival. But, rather than boil water, we keep our hands busy checking and rechecking equipment. The fruit finally appears and we spring into action. As music plays from two large speakers (usually amped up 80′s hits), the grapes are weighed, de-stemmed, and carefully hand sorted before being placed in the fermentor they will call home for the coming weeks. Another central component of harvest is the physical work required to properly care for developing wines. Just like a newborn baby, they need careful coddling and attention. Each lot of fruit is entirely unique and behaves in an individual manner. Largely though, the day-to-day care of a nascent wine consists of punch-downs and pump-overs. These are two different methods of achieving the same goal, aerating and cooling the wine to keep it happily on track toward becoming an elegant finished wine. Take it from me that the daily punch-downs give you quite the workout!

By far my favorite harvest memory is tagging along with Rebekah as she did her morning tasting of the wines-in-progress. It was during this ritual that I learned to appreciate personalities of the different vineyards and varietals featured in the Buccella wines. Rebekah, always an accommodating mentor, would cheerfully discuss the wines with me as though they were old friends. In a single sip she gained endless information and an almost clairvoyant view into the future of that particular wine. Experiencing the maturation of tastes and aromas in these spectacular wines along with her guidance was truly a privilege. I will never forget my fall spent as member of the Buccella Harvest 2013 team, or as I have come to see it, family. They are a talented, good-humored, and industrious bunch that I was fortunate enough to get to know. As I move toward finding my place in the wonderful and ever-expanding world of wine, I am excitedly awaiting the release of Buccella’s 2013 vintage. I know it is going to be spectacular. Cheers!

Samantha Amberg is a recent graduate of American University, currently living in Frederick, MD. She would like to thank her family for their support, Dr. Steven Davison for providing the nudge she needed, and Rebekah Wineburg for taking a chance on her. She remains passionate about wine and is working on finding her niche in the wine industry

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