My first grape harvest experience

After weeks of covering grape vines with nets to prevent usurping by marauding birds, I had my first experience removing netting and picking grapes.  Let me just admit right off, I will never be a professional picker.  I have a tremendous appreciation for those (typically foreign laborers) that do make their livelihood at such a task as it demands much skill and patience.

This is already a heavy bin to me, toward the end of the morning this was as full as I could carry it.
This is already a heavy bin to me, toward the end of the morning this was as full as I could carry it.

My rise-and-shine had me squinting into the sun as it just cleared the Blue Mountains on my way to the vineyard.  We were gathering to pick Muscat Ottonel grapes from an acre of land tucked into a ten-acre organic farm.  It was too early for me to have time to make a cup of tea or for the sun to have made an impact on the air temperature; I was chilled and groggy as we began unclipping netting to harvest grapes.  Despite being tall enough to reach, I couldn’t seem to make the netting stay at the top, far side of the row.  With a bit of direction, I got it and manage to undo more than one row myself.

Small, unripe secondary clusters needed to be picked, but not kept.
Small, unripe secondary clusters needed to be picked, but not kept.

Picking, sounds simple enough right?  Snip the bunch of grapes from the vine and put it in the bin.  Well, don’t get any leaves in the bin, but you can cut the leaves (not whole branches) out-of-the-way.  Don’t put the ‘secondary clusters’ into the bins either as they are later bunches produced by happy vines and they won’t be anywhere near ripe enough for use.  Another don’t is the bird ravaged clusters that aren’t really clusters any longer.  Despite the netting the birds find ways to reach some of the fruit, crafty creatures that they are.

Lots of ripe, some sun burnt, Muscoto grapes.
Lots of ripe, some sun burnt, Muscat Ottonel grapes.

Snipping the stem of the cluster is also easier said than done much of the time; sometimes you can’t even find the stem until you remove the leaf cover and move the cluster around to determine where it is actually attached to a branch.  They get tucked up into the support wires, between branches, and intermingled with each other too.  For every free hanging, easy-to-clip cluster I had four or five that were far more complicated.  The grape we were harvesting was a white with tender-skin, so you didn’t want to squeeze too hard or yank the grapes and lose some of the precious juice.  There are so many steps in the process where it can be lost, reducing the sheer volume of the crop and your wine.

Birds and insects consume the ripe grapes they can reach.
Birds and insects consume the ripe grapes they can reach.

By the time we were up to harvesting the grapes the sun had warmed where it had touched and my sweatshirt came off.  Half way through the process the sun insisted its presence be felt; I was quite warm in short order.  Soon the wasps and yellow jackets were hungry after their evening repose and wanted to break their fast in the grapes they had been consuming since they began to ripen.  It was dangerous territory now; many of our numbers were stung, valiantly continuing to harvest.  I am a wimp; I only risked one hand, the one with the clippers, as I continued to snip clusters.  My bin was positioned to catch the clusters as they fell from the vine; then I kicked the semi-full bin several feet down the row to encourage the insect population to find somewhere else before picking it up to dump it into the large stainless bin on the back of the truck.  Slower than some, but effective at keeping me sting-free.

Janitorial crew for the vineyard and egg layers.
Janitorial crew for the vineyard and egg layers.

This is a working farm, there are ducks and geese, that helped keep the vineyard floor clean.  There are egg layers and, I believe, those for the pot.  I saw two huge swine – probably the largest I have ever seen – that will eventually be butchered.  Baily, the resident dog, is supposed to chase off deer, but I understand she has a relaxed attitude toward guarding.  Our host, Greg Schnorr, is a chef and teaches in WWCC’s Culinary Program, provided a lovely breakfast burrito spread with nearly all of the breakfast coming from the farm: eggs, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, sausage, bacon, to name most.

Did you want to know how the discussion over the mylar tape went?  Netting, when properly clipped, is the only effective deterrent to the birds.  Mylar tape, and recorded noises, even if they are random are only good for short time frames.  The birds are smart enough to see no ill effects from them and ignore them.  Our presence in the vineyard is a better method.  It is several days later and we are noticing less birds under the nets; would love to have NO birds in the nets.

I’ll fill you in on the destemming process that came later in the day next time.

7 thoughts on “My first grape harvest experience

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