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Stomping fresh grapes into Chardonnay

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Posted: Saturday, September 1, 2012 5:26 pm | Updated: 6:04 am, Tue Sep 4, 2012.

Laura Chadwell was nearly ten feet in the air, balancing in a grape press. Her braided ponytail swung back and forth as she threw the mass of her body into the grapes under her feet. The tank was pretty full, but more clusters of Chardonnay were waiting to join their sticky, sugary fellows inside. It was Chadwell’s job to make room.

This was crushing duty at Jessie’s Grove Winery on Saturday. And Chadwell was in up to her hips.

Chadwell is a harvest intern at the winery. When she’s not climbing inside the press tank, she studies viticulture and enology at University of California Davis.

“This winery is smaller, and I can do more hands on work,” she said.

Chardonnay clusters were pulled off the vines on Turner Road and carted in bins to the gleaming silver crusher.

Tyler Smith, assistant winemaker, maneuvered a forklift up to the press to dump in a load of grapes. Then another. And one more, until it was full.

Chadwell climbed up the ladder in thick rubber boots and stained jeans to clamber inside the tank. The squishy fruit is unexpectedly dense, and takes some strength to pack it in.

When she climbed out, green grape skins and juice dripped from her boots. Her arms were covered in sugar and bits of stems. But she was grinning.

Her boss stood to the side, watching his employees get the grapes through the first stage of winemaking.

“Getting up to your elbows in your work is not such a bad thing,” said Greg Burns, winery owner.

The juice from Saturday’s grapes was pumped into a holding tank so dirt and particulates can fall out of the mix. It will remain for two days until it moves to the next step on the 18 month journey to becoming a bottle of wine.

Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews.com.

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