The cellar can be a dark place. Lights are kept low and stacks of barrels cast all sorts of shadows to make things even darker. Basically, without a flashlight, not much can be accomplished in the cellar. So picking out a good light is not an inconsequtial task. It is also an amazing demonstration as to how the smallest design features can greatly affect daily work at a winery.
Asking an American winemaker what flashlight they use is akin to asking an Aussie winemaker what shoes they wear, there seems to be a universal answer. There are probably five or six Mini-Mags lying around any cellar I’ve ever been in. It is sturdy, bright, and the beam can be focused which is a big help when checking the level of a big tank from up top. While an iconic piece of industrial design, there are a few issues that stick in my craw about these lights. First, it takes two hands to turn on and off, two hands that many times you don’t have available. Another problem is the incandescent bulb. It sucks up battery life quickly, and it can break when dropped onto the concrete cellar floor. Lastly, everyone uses these things so they tend to get “borrowed” which leads to mornings wandering around looking for a light.
Luckily, it seems that the company has heard from people like me before, so an answer to most of my problems exists. It uses a push button on/off that can be operated with one hand, and the battery life goes from 5 hours to 200+ hours, which is nice. Bulb also seems to be a lot sturdier to the inevitable drop. Overall I tend to like this light quite a bit more than the classic and it is slowly taking over.
Another option for overall use that has unique advantages is a headlamp. The big advantage here is hands free operation. Great for barrel work like topping in place and what not. Also, there are many times I need to sample a vineyard before sunrise during harvest. The headlamp is the only way to go here. You can even harvest at night using these and tractor work like spraying needs to be done at night, so headlamps are a winemaker must in my opinion. My personal favorites are the basic models from Petzl and the Black Diamond.
The only problem I have had a hard time addressing is the “borrowing” problem. The better and more functional a light is, the greater the odds it ends up somewhere besides where you left it. Thus I was looking for a light that maybe was a bit weird or unique enough that people would avoid using it. The solution appeared recently with the invention of probably the coolest personal light ever made, the Mini Hozuki . Maybe not the most practical light, but it is just plain fun to use and cool to play with. It is bright enough that it lights up the entire interior of a tank, so it does have come practical applications. It can even hang from a barrel rack with the built in magnet. But most of all, people just won’t borrow it because they have no idea what it is. This is just one of those items that you just plain will not be disappointed in.
Winemaking can really be tough on clothes, especially pants, so finding good work clothes has been more of a challenge than I ever expected. The mix of vineyard and cellar work, hot dry conditions followed by wet and cold on a never ending cycle really tests garment quality. My first few months working I just assumed that a pair of random denim jeans is all I’d ever need. I learned quickly that cheap blue jeans, those on the Ross clearance rack, are not really up to the task. Blown out seams and fabric rips give them a working life of maybe a month or so. By my second harvest I had moved on to the ranch classics, Levis 501s and Wrangler 13 WMZs. While these were a definite step in the right direction, they still only gave me a shelf life of a couple months before some type of integrity fail reared its ugly head.
I eventually decided to trial some of the tougher work wear classics like Dickies, Carhartt and Ben Davis. The Dickies performed much like the hardier jeans, falling apart after a promising start. During testing, the Ben Davis held up great, lasting a whole harvest of wearing 4-5 times a week. But the fit wasn’t the most comfortable. They are a bit baggy which can lead to snagging on things like drip lines, barrel racks, and tank valves, no good! Carhartt became my go to work pants during the 2009-2011 harvests. Overall, they gave the best performance and comfort at work. Plus Carhartt was based in my hometown of Detroit, well Dearborn is kind of Detroit. I thought I'd never have to think about work pants again.
Sadly, something changed. The Made in USA tag on Carhartts disappeared and was replaced with Made in China or Mexico. Call me crazy, but the crotch seams started failing after a few months. I started to get fabric tears and the fit was not what it used to be. Then I started to notice that not a single pair of work pants I had been trying were made in America. This got me thinking, does anyone make sturdy work clothes in this country anymore? A little research led me to discovering probably the world’s best pair pants. The Filson Oil Finish Double Tin Pants have no equal. When the first 2 customer reviews I read were 5 stars from a logger talking about the pants handling a whip from a broken chain saw and a Canadian Railway engineer who’s had a single pair for 8 years, I knew I had moved in the right direction. They are not as cheap as other pants I'd tried, but not crazy expensive for quality clothing. I mean, they are cheaper than most women's denim pants these days! Plus, I don’t think it is physically possible to damage these things. Everyone should own a pair of Double Tine Cloth pants, just to feel the sensation of what a truly well crafted piece of work clothing feels like. It was like the time I was shopping for my wedding suit and my friend took me to a shop in San Francisco that only sold hand-made Italians. Everything else just plain feels wrong and cheap once you wear the real deal.
The only problem with the Big Boy Filson’s is that they are a bit too heavy duty. In August, when it’s 112 degrees in the vineyard, they can get a bit sweaty walking around. Plus, the oil finish has a strict no washing allowed rule. Things can get a bit funky! So in searching for something a bit more daily practical, I came across my current favorite work pants, Earl’s Gung Ho Camp Trouser. These are darn near a perfect pair of work pants. Sturdy 12oz duck cloth, button fly, a unique cut, made in Texas, affordable…etc. I think, after all these years, I’ve found my daily work pants. Sadly there are rumors that Earl's may be going out of business, so stock up while you can. But of course, the experiment never ends. I have pair of these coming in for testing during this year’s harvest. And I’m always open to suggestions, so if you have a pair of pants you think can handle the work, I’m all ears.