Yes, that is the question concerning grapes. Well, not exactly. Not to pick the grapes is not an option. When the grapes are ready, they need to be picked. The picking is determined by Brix level, heat, water, phases of the moon and a device I see the wine makers using which resembles a flux capacitor. When it’s time, it’s time. End of story. The real question to ponder regarding grape picking is, By Whom?

The answer to the question has two basic answers – us or them. The easy way to go is to bring in the “crew”. The crew is a group of unnamed people who show up early and go after the grapes like demons. They scramble among the rows with an unspoken sense of order and pick every single grape. They don’t miss one and the work is completed quickly. The trucks are loaded and go to meet their end at the hands of a crusher at a crush facility. The pickers move on to the next small vineyard. All that’s required in this picking situation by the grape grower is to make a payment. No one likes to make payments; we like to receive payments.

Then there is the friends and family route. The requirements to have friends and family members do the picking are a little more complicated. Those who have never picked grapes during the harvest are always willing to participate because they have a romantic notion of the activity. They envision themselves in a movie with the likes of Keanu Reeves or Marion Cotillard swooning over ripe and robust fruit. Sorry all, but Keanu and Marion are apt to skip the day of picking — they know better.

The uninitiated believe also that the grapes are at eye level shaped in a beautiful cluster murmuring, “Pick me, pick me.” Sorry to disappoint but the truth is that picking is not for the faint-hearted. Very sharp tools are involved and the grapes are all over the place. Some are at knee level, some are at eye level, and all are hiding behind leaves or tangled in the wires. None want to be picked and sent to the crusher, so they hide. Then there are the bugs and the heat and the fact that picked grapes create a zone of sticky all around that takes weeks to wash off. Despite these dire warnings, friends and family still want to pick.

The matter of scheduling is another hurdle to consider when friends and family are involved. Coordinating when the grapes are ready and when the friends are available requires a Ph.D. in operations research. The grapes might be ready to pick on a Wednesday but no friends are available until Saturday. Uh-oh, now what?

Then, when the friends show up on the day they are wearing flip flops and new white shorts and tops. Uh-oh, again. Let the picking begin. It may take longer but when they get going, the grapes are picked and the crowd feels fulfilled to have been a cog in the big wheel of winemaking. When the grapes are in the bins and the trucks are ready to haul the produce off, it is a feeling like no other, sticky and all. And the party is ready to go even though it may only be 11 a.m.

So now that the options are laid out, who picks? It depends on the yield and the schedule and the flux capacitors. Either way, it is a miracle that what looked like bare sticks in the ground only a few months ago can produce the grapes that will soon be some of the finest wine in the world. Go pick.

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Rich Moran spends his time in wine country marveling at the workers and how they do what they do.

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