WOODINVILLE, Wash — Any winemaker will tell you, Crush, the time when grapes are harvested for processing, is their busiest time of the year.
But, while the work may be hectic and the days long, most of the people laboring in Woodinville, are doing it for free.
"We're all small wineries. And small wineries don't have a lot of money and so the volunteer force is incredibly important to us," said John Bigelow, owner and winemaker at JM Cellars in Woodinville. Like most wineries around the state, John relies on the common practice of using volunteers who sign up to help with harvest.
Bigelow said, "I think they really get the chance to see what the winemaking process is about and kind of live the romance of this game. We get some of these incredible people who want to come out and spend all day sorting fruit on their own time and at the end of the day, they get a bottle of wine. I don't know if I would do it, but they really love it, us."
The duties vary depending on the winery. And, most want the volunteers to work at least a full day.
"It's not a super technical thing that they're doing. They're basically just looking at individual grapes and pulling out grapes that are under-ripe or overripe and pulling out anything that's classified as MOG, matter other than grapes. I don't want any of that in my wines," said Bigelow.
Besides pulling and sorting grapes, JM Cellars also uses its volunteers to help with an old school winemaking method.
Bigelow said, "I really have kinda found that I like to have people foot stomp the grapes instead of crushing them through a machine. So when we're done here they are going to hop in a bunch of bins and are going to stomp around like Lucy and Ethel."
Today's stompers are first-time volunteers Joe Shaw and his wife Mo.
"I've always been making wine on my own terms and over at friends' houses and I never really volunteered for this, but this is a great experience it's a lot of fun," said Shaw.
The fruits of their labor will take a while before they can be enjoyed. But for everyone involved, it's worth it.
"I get a lot of people who come back over and over again just because they enjoy being around community and all the good people that are apart of Washington wine," said Bigelow.
So while working for free might not sound like fun, to the wannabe winemakers, volunteering during crush hits all the right notes.
If you're interested, inquire through the JM Cellars website.