You may see their backs bent among the vines, moving at an urgent pace as they gather a crop too temperamental and too valuable to wait.
But you never see their faces. The harvesters have their features concealed beneath the brims of caps and hoodies, their expressions impossible to read.
Collectively, they drive the engine at the front end of winemaking. Their days of picking can begin at 2 a.m. and end in the beating rays at noon. Their workplace is not the quietly bucolic scene of rolling vineyards found on Wine Country postcards. It is filled with the thrum of generators, the smoke of exhaust, the growl of tractors.
What if they were to be coaxed to a camera, focused just on their faces? Who would we see?
Photographer Erik Castro set out to capture the many faces of Sonoma’s grape harvest. He showed up at a dozen vineyards — Balletto, Quivira and Jack London Ranch among them — toward the end of shifts as long as 10 hours. Then Castro persuaded 70 harvesters — 67 men and three women — to sit down before a stranger. Hot and exhausted, they looked into his lens and revealed something of themselves.
They were as young as 21, as old as 73. They were all Mexican, from Oaxaca, Michoacán, Guanajato, Tlaxcala. One vineyard manager said that in 42 years he had only one American picker, and that was for a single day’s work.
“I don’t want you to look at the vineyards. I don’t want you to look at the hills,” Castro says. “All I want you to look at is the person. I’ve always thought when you look in somebody’s eyes, it removes the labels you might have on them. They don’t become an immigrant or a laborer. They become simply a human being.”
HARVESTER, a Photo Series by Erik Castro, is on display at Christie Marks Fine Art through September 17.
312 South A St., Suite 7, Santa Rosa, CA 95401, (707) 695-1011, christiemarksfineart.com
A selection of photographs from the Harvester photo series by Erik Castro: