Our Day Working in the Vineyard at SolRouge
Neil and I not only like to drink wine, but also we love to be around the grapes before they turn into wine. Whenever we get the chance, we visit vineyards. Since harvest happens late summer to early fall, we called our friend who owns a vineyard to see when harvest might begin. Well we were in luck, because it was about to start in a few days.
We arrived the night before, prepared for an early morning harvest, 6am. It is important to harvest the grapes when it is cooler in the morning so you can transport them to your winery before they start to naturally ferment in the big bin. This was the first harvest of the season so there were a few other tasks besides just picking grapes. The Petite Sirah crop that we would harvest was determined to be ready to pick by taking a brix reading earlier in the week. (This will be explained later in the entry).
Before the grapes could be harvested, the netting had to be removed from the plants. Why is there netting, you may wonder? The netting is a protection from the birds eating the grapes. They know when they are ripe and delicious, too. The first couple rows had their netting removed the day before, but half of the team ended up removing the remaining nets. The other half of the team removed the clusters from the vines. There was a definite technique to removing the nets. But since it was so early in the morning, I was slow to pick it up. I’ve never been much of a morning person! Our goal was to untangle the plants from the nets, roll the net up to the top of the row and tie it to the post. Our technique definitely improved once we got the hang of it.
There were 2 other jobs too: moving the grapes around the vineyard, and cleaning out the debris in the buckets. This vineyard has a very steep hillside where the plants grow, so one person would collect the buckets of grapes on top of the hill, load them into the back of the ATV and drive them down the hill. Then the person at the bottom of the hill would sort any leaves or other debris out of the bucket and dump the bucket into the large grape bin that would be sent to the winery.
The whole process took about 2 hours to harvest the 1.5 tons of grapes. Go team! And although we were on net duty, Neil and I did get to pick a few clusters off the vine before we finished up.
It was pretty funny to be done with all our work before 9am, so Neil and I volunteered for another project later in the day. This task was to collect random samples of each varietal to see which grape would be next for harvest. Having a science mind, I loved the idea of gathering samples. We walked up and down each row, taking a grape or two off random vines and putting them into a storage bag. We were happy to have volunteered for this job because we got to spend time with the grapes! Also it was pretty labor intensive on a hot sweaty day, so our power was multiplied by three of us. Who knew how much work it would be just to pick a few grapes here and there. This task took about 1.5 hours.
We ended up collecting 8 different varietals throughout the vineyard. Later in the day, we gathered our storage bags of grapes and a refractometer. A refractometer is a tool that uses a prism, a gradient scale and sunlight to determine the relative sugar weight (brix) of the grapes. This tool kind of looks like a telescope or kaleidoscope and was fun to use. We squished up our bag of each varietal to release the juice from the grapes. Next we put some of the juice on the lens of the refractometer and looked into the sunlight. See the image of the blue and white circle for what we saw, showing a reading of 23%. Although I’ve seen this tool before, I’m not sure if I ever had a chance to use one. Another new skill to add to the résumé.
Our grapes ranged from 19.2 to 26 brix. Usually a wine grape is declared ready to harvest when the brix reading is about double your desired alcohol content. Although if you “google” brix readings like I did, the math is a little more complicated than this. It will give you a pretty close idea though. In some cases you don’t wait until this magic number because the birds will also know the grapes are ready and come eat them all. We’ve actually heard of some vineyards having a section just for the birds so they leave your main crops alone. From the readings we took, the vineyard plans to continue the harvest this coming weekend with 2 more varietals.
There was definitely a good amount of work to do that day in the vineyard but like I said, it gave us time to spend with the grapes. And like any good trip to the vineyard, it ended with WineAndCheese!