Thursday, October 27, 2016

Fortunate to Have My Team at Dutcher

It was St. Patrick’s Day a few years ago, and someone on the property said they saw a man sleeping by the house at the front of the property, by the barn.  When this was all unfolding, I was in the estate house enjoying a nice corn beef and cabbage dinner behind a gate.  So I’m thinking, “I’m safe, but who knows about everyone else and what this guy’s up to.” I call our assistant winemaker, Nick, and he went out to go see what was going on.  He didn’t like the idea of an intruder on the estate any more than I did.  So he went out there in the Prius we had at the time.  A joke rang in my head, “Huh, chasing down intruders in a Prius.  Of course, only in California.” Anyway, Nick went down to the house to see what was going.  He parked right by the house, off the side of the road.  It was pretty hot that day, so Nick looked all around the house, heard something moving around, and off to the left he found the man in the shade, laying down.  “What are you doing?” Nick asked.  
“Oh nothing, I’m just hiding from the cops,” he said. “I’m just laying here.”
“Well you can’t stay here. It’s private property.”
“Can I have a hundred dollars?”
“Sorry, man, you gotta go.” Nick finished.
So he left.  Nick stayed put, just to make sure he didn’t try to double-back, re-situate in the shade and have the whole thing happen again.
        Later, some of the crew saw him walking down Dry Creek Road, and we thought he might try to hide out on the property again.  We had an event that day with small bags of popcorn so naturally we all grabbed a bag, jumped in the Prius, and got back into pursuit mode.  We looked up and down Dry Creek Road.  Nothing… looked around a little more, still nothing.  We were in the clear.  What this shows me is that even though we spend so much time together here at work, and we count on each other in this professional context, I know, and we all know, that we can always call on each other for help with something not-so-related to work, and they’ll be there.  I can always say to someone at Dutcher, “I need help,” and they’ll be there.  Huh, I think now and find it funny this happened on St. Patty’s day, ‘cause I realized, yet again, how lucky I am to have the team I do.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Lots of Olive, Very Little Oil

We set out onto the property, the entire team.  It was Nick, our winemaker’s, idea.  So we decided as a whole crew that we’d pick them.  We ruled that a day in mid-October would be best.  It’s not easy work, picking olives.  We knew this.  I mean, you have to rake them off, you have to pick them off the ground, you have to get nets and you’re getting poked in the face by branches, and scratched everywhere…  Yeah, it’s a LOT of work.  But we were up for it.  There were a lot of olives to pick.  And I mean a lot.  Close to 900 pounds.  But we all went out there.  We wanted to make some olive oil from the Dutcher property and show it off, enjoy it ourselves at home, at the dinner table—something in addition to the beautiful wines our production team produces every vintage.

At the end of the mission, all of us launching into the vineyard’s outer borders for the sake of making olive oil, we wound up with about 3 cases of Dutcher Crossing olive oil.  Three cases!  It was fun watching everyone get competitive, watching the guys wanting to beat the girls, and vice versa.  It got intense, but not too serious.  This is one of the memories over my nearly ten years as owner that I’ll look back on and smile, laugh.  But what also makes me laugh is, as I said, THREE CASES.  “Three cases?  After all that work?  After all those scratches?  After all that time on the ground?”  Not too many talking about picking olives this year, I’ve noticed.  Not a problem, though.  We have those memories of the crew picking branch pieces and olives out of their hair, and off their clothes.. the battle wounds.  It was a great team bonding experience, at least in my mind, and reminded all of us how lucky we are not only to work here, but work with each other.  Seeing the girls in competition with the boys made me laugh more than a couple times.  It was fun, just plain old fun.

Thursday, October 13, 2016


        Just with the title, you might be thinking, “What?  What happened?” Well…  Let me tell you…..

        I broke the punchdown machine.  I’ve used it countless times before, during the past harvests, but somehow this time I managed to break it.  In the theme of safety, and how that’s a consistency here at Dutcher, I was safe elevated on the forklift, in a half-cage where the railing comes up to my waist.  So I knew I was safe.  Anyway, I was doing my punchdown, being a bit forceful with the cap of the cold-soaking wine, and the arm of the machine bucked hard to the left, nearly taking me with it.  Josh, our maintenance king, said there was a bit of metal fatigue, which makes me feel a little better, but either way it was a little funny that I, the owner of the winery, broke the puncher.  “It’s not your fault, Deb, it’s not your fault…” I keep telling myself.  They joke with me anyway, and I laugh with them.  Not that it could be helped, and certainly not expected, it just happened.  And I’m not the only one, mind you!  The machine has already been “broken”, I guess you could say, three times this harvest.  It’s been an interesting harvest, needless to say.  But, as I said when I restarted this blog, is that’s just what happens, and you have to laugh.  The machine’s working fine now, and everything is back to normal.  But it was a funny feeling telling my winemakers, “Uh, guys, I broke the punchdown machine.” Of course they gave me a joke and a jab, here and there.  And that’s expected, especially from Nick.  I think we found it funny as it happened so unexpectedly, and during harvest of all times.  Safety was in-place, but something happened.  “Oh well,” you have to say to yourself.  As a winery owner, this stuff’s gonna happen.  This may be my tenth harvest, but I’m still learning, and there’s still new experiences, some funny and some not.

Not Safe? Then No Movement.

One harvest, I was out there helping out.  But I had to be elevated up on a forklift, over 15 feet in the air.  No one wanted to move me.  In their desire to keep me safe and not risk having me fall, they kept me suspended up there, with bees and yellow jackets swarming around me.  For those that don’t know, when wine starts fermenting, or even right when the grapes arrive, those dang jackets and bees will absolutely wrap themselves around you.  Anyway, I was still up there, and no one had the guts to move me.  They were concerned I might fall.  No one moved me.  This battle went on for over two weeks, ‘Who’s going to be the one to move Debra when she’s doing punchdowns?’  It was a constant battle.  I appreciated it, but at the same time I was thinking, “Someone move me already!”

Now, either our Assistant Winemaker Nick, Cellar Master Cass, or our estate jack-of-all-trades Andres move me now when I’m up there punching down.  I value my life more than a ton of grapes, and these are the guys that do it without any hesitation.  And, I don’t hesitate allowing them to move me while I’m up on that thing.  Safety has to come first, that’s always been a staple and a consistency at Dutcher Crossing.  If it takes an hour longer to do something, and it’s safer, then that’s what you do.  Just like back home with my family’s construction business.  In the wine world, what I’m learning, is that time management is vastly different.  With these punchdowns that we do and that I was doing while up on that lift, you’re in your own little world.  I’m up there with my earphones in, listening to music.  Why can I do that, have my own moment up there punching down a cap of grapes?  Because I feel safe.  I know a safe reality is in place, for me and the everyone on the crush pad and around the winery.

During harvest, safety has to be the priority.  Not something you check on here and there, but a constantly maintained state here at the winery.  I don’t get up on that lift anymore, as the boys want to get things done quick, but I have been out there raking fruit out of the bins.  I still want to help, be out there with the boys and contribute where I can.  I’ll be helping out this harvest with punchdowns in the morning, with Nick’s crew.  Yes, I’m sure the bees and jackets’ll be buzzing around me, but it’s all part of the job.

Making wine is a long process, and in the process there needs to be an assurance that you’re safe.  It’s that simple.  Like I said, if it takes an hour longer and everyone’s going to be alright, then I’m fine with it.  Safety can never be overestimated.  Each department here at the winery depends on the other, and we constant are checking our procedures, making sure they’re safe.  Looking back now, I can see this is completely the reason for the boys not wanting to move me.  They just wanted me to be safe, which I appreciate.  Harvest to harvest, this is what I and anyone visiting Dutcher Crossing will see.