Monday, September 24, 2012
Harvest Monday–24 September 2012
This week was a little different than usual. I did harvest the usual cukes, beans, and zucchini (photos at the end), but the garden is getting close to done. I have to clean up some of the beds to get ready for planting garlic next month. The big event for us happened Sunday when I signed up to pick wine grapes at our local winery, Nashoba Valley Winery, and suckered my wife and daughter into keeping me company.
I had to pay $18 per person for the privilege of working and we had to show up at 9:30 Sunday morning with gloves and shears. Perfectly reasonable. Over coffee and apple cider donuts Rick Pelletier, the owner, explained our task: pick 4-5 tons of grapes in 3 hours. Piece of cake. Our family was assigned to pick Vignoles, a white grape. Rick had hoped to pick it in two weeks when the Brix readings would have been closer to the desired 23 degrees, but the appearance of sour bunch rot required its addition to the day’s assignments. What’s another 2-3 ton of grapes? Besides, it was a gorgeous New England Fall day.
Here we are at the top of the Vignoles vineyard. Rick is explaining what to do and how to pick off or cut out the rotten grapes. Note the Segway with all-terrain tires Rick used to fly around supervising us while we lugged around 30-pound boxes of grapes by hand.
The vines were loaded with beautiful clusters of grapes and our orders were to pick everything. I wish my garden looked this healthy.
This is a cluster of grapes with sour bunch rot. For a cluster like this, we would cut off the rotten bottom and let it drop on the ground. Tomorrow the staff will clean up the area under the vines to avoid overwintering the fungus that causes the rot.
My first 30-pound box of grapes, only 15 more to go!
Although we worked for three hours, from 10:15 to 1:15, before they called us for lunch, we didn’t finish. Unfortunately, the winery staff that is expecting to show up Monday to crush grapes will be surprised that they are headed out to the vineyard to pick the remaining grapes. Sorry guys, what did you expect for $18? Here’s some of the gang enjoying the barbeque chicken lunch and generous amounts of wine provided us as part of the deal. We each also received a $15 gift card we can use now or next year to purchase a bottle of the wine we helped pick, so it was a very good deal and a lot of fun.
After lunch we got a tour of the winery operations. While small, Nashoba Valley has state-of-the-art equipment. This is the stemmer-crusher room. The grapes will come in through the door in big MacroBins. Staff will pick though the clusters, discarding any under-ripe or rotten ones. The clusters are tossed in the hopper and are carried up the belt, where they drop into the stemmer seen in the back of the picture. The grapes we picked do not need to be crushed, so the whole berries are placed in the wine press (dark object on the left) to extract the juice. The juice (and skins, in the case of the red grapes) are then pumped into the fermentation tanks.
These stainless steel fermentation tanks are refrigerated to control the fermentation temperature. Since they are electronic controllers, Rick has them connected to the internet so he can monitor the winery from home. Now if I could just have the zucchini notify me when a fruit has reached my preferred size, I could avoid all the baseball bats I seem to grow.
The barrel room houses barrels containing wines selected for aging in oak barrels.
After the tour and a bit of apple crisp, we wandered down hill to see the St. Croix vineyard that the other team picked today. St. Croix is a very cold hardy variety originally developed in Minnesota. It is planted at the bottom of the hill since that is the coldest part of the orchard (cold air is heavier than hot and tends to settle in the valleys). While usually used in blends, it can be grown as a varietal. It makes a very drinkable wine.
The St. Croix vineyard running down hill into the flats at the bottom.
The St. Croix grape clusters were big and full. They seemed disease free but were being bothered by a flock of birds that are nesting in the nearby tress along the boundary of the vineyard. They only eat red grapes and don’t bother the green grapes like the Vignoles.
A stack of 30-pound boxes of St. Croix grapes after harvest. You are looking at about 1200 pounds of fruit just on these three pallets.
The staff dumped the boxes into these large MacroBins for transport up to the winery. The MacroBins will be loaded on to a truck with a fork lift and taken to the receiving room of the winery, where they will be stemmed and pressed tomorrow.
From my own garden on Saturday, I got four more zucchini and some pole beans. The beans are about 10 inches long, so that will give you an idea on the size of the zucchini. The bush beans are producing again and I got a few more cukes from the Summer Dance vines, which are almost completely dead now. The Juliet tomatoes are the only ones left still producing tomatoes. Disease has wiped out the rest of the toms.
To see what other gardeners around the world are harvesting from their gardens, head over to Daphne’s Dandelions, our host for Harvest Monday.