Stint at a Vineyard

August 9th - August 18th, 2012

One of the implicit purposes of this adventure is to learn as much as possible about diverse topics. Agriculture is high on the list, and what better place and way to ease into the topic than a vineyard and wine. While it sounds romantic - and trust you me, it is - a vineyard is a business that requires hard work, planning, strategy, infrastructure, and execution. This will be fun.

The Vineyard

Thursday, August 9th: Working on the Vine

The first lesson is out on the field, working with the "vine", performing some "plucking and tucking." This is something that is done once the fruit starts coming in, and the aim is to expose the grapes to sun and breeze with the aim of controlling mold. This is done by manually plucking away thousands, and thousands of leaves from the vines, and tucking the stray vines onto themselves and the guide wires.

Fruit after plucking

This task is done once per season, and it requires many hours of labor. Doing this along side of me were two students from France, Just'ine and Vincent, who were studying agriculture related topics in French colleges, and needed an internship like this one to fulfill their credits. They coached me on the best way to pluck and tuck, and I'd get to know them well in the coming days.

Thousands of plucked leaves...

The vineyard had a bistro featuring a fantastic local chef, and was open Wednesday - Sunday for lunch. This meant that us, the field workers, could take a break from the heat to eat delicious food before getting back to plucking and tucking.

Bistro patio

Work was done by 5:30pm and the heat of the day demanded swimming in cool water. At my aunt's suggestion, the three of us headed over to an abandoned quarry.

Just'ine and Vincent

No comment

Dinner at the vineyard was a daily event. We would all cook together, sit down in the dining room, and chat about the day and any topics that came to mind. Loving food and cooking, I was in heaven having a professional kitchen at my disposal. That meant that with blackberry season just starting, homemade ice cream was in order.

Pre-frozen blackberry ice cream

Just because life is unfair sometimes (note heavy sarcasm), there was also an infinite supply of meringues in the kitchen; the chef would make them daily with left-over whites. Today it meant dessert would be blackberry syrup on top of them.

Blackberry & meringues

Food and conversation was memorable, and bed was met with enthusiasm after the long day.

Friday, August 10th: More Vines, Tomatoes, and a New Cousin

Like yesterday, the day began early on the vine and we took a break in the bistro. However, it being Friday, we were done by 4:00pm. At that time, my aunt and I went to get groceries, which included a visit to a "Tomato Factory" and a you-pick cherry expedition.

On the topic of hair, I decided that since I would be around the business' clientele, I should be better groomed than how I came in (read: mountain man). The clippers came out of the panniers, and everything was taken down.

Working the vine

The tomato farm was very impressive. It was an organic, greenhouse operation, with biologic controls for pests and productivity. The plants were grown in sterile coconut fiber pillows and fed through the irrigation system. Some insects were kept for fertilization purposes (bees), and others for pest control, such as Spider Mite Predators.

Tomato factory

After the grocery run, Maria Clara, Xavier, Just'ine, Vincent, and I went to a bar in Cowichan Bay to watch the sunset and wait for my cousin, Emilio. This was exciting because I didn't recall ever meeting him, and it would be a great opportunity to get to know him.

Sunset on Cowichan Bay

Emilio came, we cooked dinner, chatted, and dined. Another successful day completed.

Saturday, August 11th: Relaxing in Cowichan Bay

No work in the vineyard for me today. Instead, I took the motorcycle to explore the area, and ended up spending time relaxing in a coffee shop. That night we would have dinner together to celebrate Emilio's birthday tonight, a day early, because Maria Clara and Xavier leave for a wedding in Seattle tomorrow.

Xavier and I discussing... something?

Dinner is delicious, and afterward the two cousins decide to hit the town. We start the night at a local brewery/pub for a couple beers and to chat, and then move over to a dive bar for beers and pool. The beer got worse, and we almost got into a fight with some methed-out locals, but we did meet someone who invited us to a "Meteor Shower Party" to watch the meteor storm happening that night. The setting for the party was someone's property on a hill, scattered with the tents of the guests, and multiple campfires running. The meteors were spectacular and a worthy ending to the night.

Sunday, August 12th: Wine Tastings, Classical Music, and a Picnic

Sunday's are busy for vineyards in the area. Tourists start trickling in early in their cars, and later the tour busses start depositing eager groups throughout the wine route in Vancouver Island. This particular one also featured a classical music event, Emilio's birthday, and perfect weather. Xavier and Maria Clara were away, Emilio was in charge, and I'd be helping out wherever needed.

The first task I set myself was to clean the windows in the pavilion where the event would take place - it had been selected for target practice by the birds in the area. Cleaning complete, I showered, put on my one nice outfit, and started doing wine tastings.

The kitchen made a special for brunch for the event, and prepped a little something special for Emilio. We gathered in the kitchen, sang, and him and I sat down for a quick lunch before resuming activities.

Happy birthday, cousin!

Crab cake benedicts, mushroom ravioli, chicken and vegetable skewer, greens with berry vinaigrette

Home made cheesecake, berry salad

Vineyard activities were non-stop until it closed for the day around 6:00pm. Cleaning completed, we had the rest of the Sunday to enjoy the warmth and blue skies. Just'ine, Vincent, Emilio, and I decided that a birthday picnic by the quarry was in order.

Short shorts club - Me, Emilio, and Vincent

Yup

This should end well...

The group headed back to the vineyard where we cleaned ourselves up, and relaxed for a bit before making dinner. Afterward, the consensus was to go out in town for a drink. At this point, given the late sleep-time from the night before, long work day, picnic, and dinner, I was ready for bed. But, as the great team player I am, on we went. We went to every.bar.in.the.area, each one closed, and I took this opportunity to sleep in the front seat; a prequel to rest to come. The group tried for a nightcap, but ended up back where we started. Fine with me!

Monday, August 13th: Digital Revamp #1

The vineyard makes fantastic wine, their brand is vibrant and strong, and their physical presence is romantic and unique. However, the digital infrastructure of the business needed to be refreshed - the website was outdated, did not reflect the business, and there was no easy way to administer it; the business did not own the hosting server, nor the website name (domain); the website did not have analytics to understand the digital traffic coming into the business; the email server was running out of space and the email clients were outdated; there were no collaboration capabilities.

Having helped businesses big and small in the past, I wanted to get Cherry Point Estate Wines set up with the latest and greatest in terms of technology. Also, it was a fun change of pace, and an opportunity to sharpen my business/technology/strategy skills. The first step was to do a discovery phase to understand the current state of things, analyze them, and be able to devise a strategy to implement changes.

Today was all about investigating, researching, calling, and documenting. Also, I said goodbye to my cousin, Emilio, who I had not met before this past weekend. He took the black beast for a spin around the vines before leaving:

Emilio on the Black Beast

The rest of the day was spent working, welcoming Maria Clara and Xavier back, and cooking delicious salmon for dinner.

Tuesday, August 14th: Digital Revamp #2, and a Hike

Moving forward with the digital revamp of the business. Continue getting contacts for who has what and where things sit. I'm able to get control of the domain name and current website hosting contract.

When I woke up, the one thing in my mind was to hike a mountain. This was a recurring thought throughout the day, and the plan became to go up the Mount Tzouhalem across Cowichan Bay, BC. The troops were rallied in the late afternoon, and with snacks in hand, the group went for a sunset hike.

The french intern contingency - Just'ine, Claire, and Xavier

Sunset over Cowichan Bay, BC

The group went back to home base for dinner, and a little friend had joined us in the house. He was not too happy when I hit him mid-air, but shot into the night once we took him outside.

House guest

Good day. Time for sleep.

Wednesday, August 15th: Digital Revamp #3, Ice Cream, Dinner

Having discussed the proposed changes and implementation with the business owners, it was time to start executing the plan. Starting with their email and collaboration. Google Apps was implemented, their emails migrated, and educational sessions completed.

Highlights of the day included ice cream at downtown Cowichan Bay, and cooking a goodbye dinner for Vincent, who was leaving to go back to school in France. We made a delicious roast beef, drank wine, and had a festive dinner in his honor.

Thursday, August 16th: Digital Revamp #4, and Buying Blackberries

Xavier picked up a bug at the wedding (we think), and is bedridden for the day. I happily volunteer to take Vincent to the airport, and make a wine delivery in downtown Victoria. It's a great chance to explore the island some more, and get a feel for daily life there. Goodbyes are said at the airport, delivery successfully made, and back to the vineyard before noon. There, more digital work was done, mainly re-designing and re-platforming the website.

The exciting part of the day comes after 5:00pm, when I'm going to help the enologist buy ~2+tons of blackberry's from locals. These are used to make two kinds of dessert wines. Mainly, the people who bring the fruit are native americans from the area, or First Nations, as they are referred to in Canada. The buying is starting today, and will continue until the quota is reached. I'm in charge of payments, accounting, and reporting (that's a fancy way to say that I paid sellers, wrote down the transactions on a clipboard, and kept track of the quantity purchased. Ha...).

~1000lbs of blackberries - smell deliciuos

Bed comes early, which is a welcome change.

Friday, August 17th: Digital Revamp #5, and Preparing to Leave

The plan was to depart today, but that changes with the digital work still needing a bit more time, and other tasks where I can be of service to the business. Besides, who am I kidding - I love it here.

Most of the digital revamp has been executed or is in the process of being completed. The big items left for today are to interview designers/developers to finish the website project and to be the go-to people for the business to work with in the future. Also, there is a need for general technology support when things break, which also requires research and interviewing. The documentation of the digital infrastructure for the business is also critical to work on and deliver, so that future people can come in with a detailed understanding of the digital components of the business.

The day is busy with work, and preparations to leave the vineyard the next day. We commemorate the visit over dinner that night.

Digital Revamp Conclusion

The digital work continues over the next few weeks while the website and deliverables are finalized. The beauty of this day and age is that I was able to manage this effort virtually.

The end result was the following: control of all digital assets by the business; implementation of a state of the art collaboration (email, documents, chat, etc) platform using Google Apps; a website based on Wordpress running on a stable platform, which is easy to maintain and keep up, with analytics to understand traffic and user behavior; support in place for technology/website; documentation of the digital landscape of the business; opportunities to expand this in the future.

Check out the new website at: http://cherrypointestatewines.com/ and like their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cherry-Point-Estate-Wines/108195499244686.

Saturday, August 18th: Leaving the Vineyard

The stint at the vineyard comes to a close today. Laundry clean, bike loaded and cleaned, it's time to catch a ferry to Vancouver, BC, from Nanaimo, BC. The original plan was to ride to the northern point of Vancouver Island, catch a ferry from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert, and then continue riding north toward the tip of Alaska. However, a piece of technology failed - the iPhone's wifi chip ceased to work, and traveling internationally without roaming, this made it an expensive paperweight. The plan changed. I would be going to Vancouver, where I would stay with Emilio for a few days to get the phone situation sorted out, and take the opportunity to get to know the city.

Emotional goodbyes were said to family and people at the vineyard. The stint had been fantastic, and promises of future reunions were mentioned.

Maria Clara, me ready to go, and Xavier - thanks for everything!

I arrive in Vancouver after taking the ferry from Departure Bay in Nanaimo, BC, and head downtown to meet Emilio. There, I unload, change, and get ready to do a Saturday night in the city. A few friends of his show up, we chat while drinking wine, go have dinner, and end up in a couple bars until the early morning. One of the highlights of the night was the 3:00am pizza (non-paleo, had not had it in a while, and it was amazing!).

There were no expectations before going to the vineyard, and what I came away with was invaluable. Being able to reconnect with family that I had not been around since early childhood, learning about a new business, being able to use my skills to further enable them to succeed, make new friends and beautiful memories, and enjoy beautiful weather, food, and region.

Next up, adventures in Vancouver, and getting things ready to the journey to the tip of the continent.

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