I realize I never finished describing our workamping job in Pepin, WI. The time flew by so quickly and before we knew it, we were back home in Indiana visiting family for Thanksgiving.
In total, we stayed in Pepin for about 6 weeks. The first two weeks were like any new job-you feel out of place and don't always know what you're doing. You just do what people tell you to do and hope you're not making any mistakes that can't be fixed. But that feeling didn't last long since Villa Bellezza was so incredibly busy. We started right as their busy tourist season hit so there wasn't much time for training. Most of the training was just learning by watching others and repeating what they did and said.
There were three general areas in which we worked.
The winery: This could be working outside tending to the grape vines or it could in the production area assisting with bottling the wine. The winery seemed to be perpetually understaffed-probably because their work was so time sensitive. If the grapes were ready to be picked, they needed to be picked right away. If a wine was ready to be bottled, it needed to happen ASAP. Alex and I both liked working in the winery a lot. The winemakers were super interesting and knowledgable and fun to work with. The days we worked outside in the vines were peaceful and quiet and a nice break from the customers in the tasting room or restaurant.
The tasting room: This is the large, beautiful area where guests can sample wines. Alex was much better at this than I was. He felt totally comfortable describing the wines and talking with the groups that would visit. We said things like "this is a dry, medium body, red. varietal it has hints of blackberry and black currant and won the whatever award at the whatever competition." I just couldn't ever keep the wines straight. I constantly had to use my cheat sheets. Alex had them all pretty well memorized.
The restaurant: This was my favorite area and where I felt most comfortable. On warm days, we mostly worked outside on the piazza and the day would fly by. The kitchen staff was fun to chat with and they were always working on new ideas for their menu. The chef, Antonio, was from Italy and I loved to listen to him talk about food. The customers were generally in good moods because they were drinking wine and it's hard to be mad about that. The only downside was that the restaurant was a relatively new addition to the winery so they were still working out all the kinks. There wasn't always clear communication between the servers and the kitchen staff and on busy days, food orders would frequently get lost. There was a computer problem almost every day and tools and supplies seemed to move over night. There were new rules almost every week. If I was working there long-term I could see how that could be frustrating but I really think it was just because they were constantly trying to improve their processes and figure out what kind of restaurant they wanted to be. In our last few weeks there, they hired an awesome new manager and promoted some kitchen staff and were clearly getting some organization in place.
Overall, the pros far outweighed the cons. Our co-workers and managers were really fun people who we genuinely enjoyed getting to know. The winery was lovely and we learned so much about grapes and wine production and how to enjoy wine.
Here are the things I've learned for the next workamping job:
1. Be clear on dates. We did not firmly establish the date the workamping gig would end and that led to a little confusion at the end. We thought we were done on November 5th, they were hoping we would stay at least one more week.
2. Don't overcommit on hours. When we took the position, it was for part-time hours. During our first week there, I made the mistake of telling the scheduling manager that we would work as many hours as they needed. I overcommitted way too soon. Our first few weeks, we worked 6 days a week, 50 hours+ and earned overtime. I had no idea how physically exhausting the shifts would be, how tired we would be and how little time that would leave for basic things like doing laundry and getting groceries. It burnt us out a little too quickly. In retrospect, I should have just clearly stated how many hours and consecutive days we could work.
3. Check the weather of the place where you'll be working. I knew Wisconsin would get cold, obviously but I thought since we were staying at an RV park with hook-ups that it would be ok. However, in late October, the park had to shut off the water due to the freezing temps. We also started flying through propane to heat the RV. On the upside, our employers were awesome and rented us a room at the motel across the street so we'd have a place to shower. I really felt like they went out of their way to make us comfortable. So the last two weeks were just a little chaotic because we went back and forth from the RV and the motel room.
I think we'll both have a special place in our hearts for Villa Bellezza and Pepin, Wisconsin for a long time. It was a fantastic place to spend the fall and I can't say enough nice things about the winery owners and the people we worked with. We'll probably look for another workamping gig next year and I hope our next experience is just as positive.
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