Our First Adventure: Picking Grapes For the Wine

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This is typed and edited by Lisa Gerber, as told to her by Patrick over a glass of Mercer Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Jon and I are often asked how we got into this whole winemaking thing. We thought we’d share our story here little by little.

A lot of us dream of doing something “some day”… but making it happen is the hard part. We talked about doing this for years before we actually did anything about it.

We did a lot of online research, and I watched a ton of winemaking videos. In our first year, we rented a glorified storage unit and sort of pieced together the equipment needed to get started from Seattle, Spokane, and Yakima via craigslist and other sites.

Our plan was to start with three varietals: Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah.

About one month prior to harvest in 2008, our grower fell through at the last minute. I was on the phone with her, discussing the grapes, and she was using words like “burn” and “chemicals.” I knew from my potato growing days that someone had sprayed something and sprayed too much. So we dumped our choice.

All of a sudden, we had no grapes, and of course, no contacts given our newbie status in the industry.

So we hopped onto Google, and decided to narrow our focus. Let’s just go with Pinot Noir. We found two growers in the Willamette Valley that were willing to sell to us. We were pretty excited. Some of the greatest Pinots come out of that region in Oregon.

Given the distance of the Willamette Valley from us in Sandpoint (about 8 hours),  we had to strategize the pickup so we could get everything in one trip. We needed to drop off bins at both places to get filled with grapes, then pick them up and drive home. The second vineyard was an hour away from the first one.

The plan was simple. We would leave the bins at the first place, head to the second one and hang out while they picked into those bins. We’d leave, head back to the first stop, pick up our full bins, and drive home.

But things don’t go as planned. We arrived at the second vineyard and there were no pickers. We waited around for about 1/2 hour at which point Jon suggested we just start picking. The growers gave us permission and our first step in making wine found us picking our own grapes form the vine.  It took us an hour to pick a half-ton. After that, the pickers arrived and busted out the other half-ton in 15 minutes.

We picked up the bins at the first vineyard, and hauled butt back to the winery in Idaho to crush and de-stem. At that point, the grapes sit in these bins pictured above and ferment in their own juice with the aid of some yeast to eat away at the sugar. We stop by the winery three times a day to “punch the cap.” (The grapes float to the top so it is necessary to punch them down periodically so they all get their fair share of fermentation.)

Each time we punch the cap, we measure the “brix” or the sugar level and record it in this lovely wine journal. When the brix hits zero, it’s time to press the juice! We’ll talk about that next!



*sniff* (not kidding, I'm a little verklempt over here!) - a clear example of how hard work and determination (and a lotta love) will make dreams come true!! Super excited for you all. :)

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber moderator

@belllindsay I'm so proud of these guys! They're working hard. On top of their jobs. :)


What can I say - I love this blog and the stories of your adventures together over a glass of the "grape". :)

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber moderator

@DonovanGroupInc Andy! Our very first commenter on the blog. :) thanks. It's been fun to watch, help, and support.