Monday, September 24, 2012

Harvest Monday–24 September 2012

Nashoba Valley Winery, Bolton, Massachusetts

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.

Richard Pelletier, Owner

The vines were loaded with beautiful clusters of grapes and our orders were to pick everything. I wish my garden looked this healthy.

Healthy clusters of Vignoles grapes

Closeup of Vignoles grape clusters

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.

Sour bunch rot of Vignoles grapes

My first 30-pound box of grapes, only 15 more to go!

A lug with about 30-40 pounds of Vignoles grapes

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.

A barbeque lunch for the crew

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.

Receiving room with stemmer/crusher

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.

Stainless steel fermentation tanks

The barrel room houses barrels containing wines selected for aging in oak barrels.

The barrel aging room

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.

A vineyard of St. Croix grapes

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.

Clusters of St. Croix grapes ready to pick

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.

Lugs of St. Croix grapes waiting to be transported to winery

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.

A MAC box of St. Croix grapes

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.

Dunja zucchini and Fortex pole beans

Bush beans, Juliet tomatoes and Summer Dance cucumbers

To see what other gardeners around the world are harvesting from their gardens, head over to Daphne’s Dandelions, our host for Harvest Monday.


  1. Sounds like a fun day. It looks like you had some delightful weather. Thank goodness you garden is producing a more modest but lovely crop, one can only work so much on the weekends.

  2. What a delightful experience and a fun family outing. Lovely harvest from your garden. Those beans sure look tender.

  3. sounds like you've had a wonderful experience picking grapes. And your harvest looks very nice too.

  4. Loved your grape picking adventures. You did well to last 3 hours - I've heard of people going up to the wine country for grape picking work and not lasting even an hour.

  5. It looks like you picked a fine day for the vineyard adventure - the pictures look like it was gorgeous out and a lovely location. Good memories and experiences combined with some learning opportunities - cannot beat that!

    Beans and zukes are still coming in at my garden too. They are the big hold outs of the summer garden it seems.

  6. Looks like a fun day at the vineyard even though they put you to work :) Although the meal, dinner, and gift card certainly makes up for it.

    I am hearing great things about Juliet tomatoes and am tempted to try them especially after disease affected most of my tomatoes this year. The zukes, cukes, beans, an broccoli shoots look good.


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