Saturday, September 12
Words can hardly express the sensations and emotions that course through a wine lover when he is with his beloved grapes. I realized that afresh while picking grapes at the Corrales Winery on a warm weekend in September. This has become a yearly passion for me as I joined a large group convened to harvest the grapes, enjoy the fellowship of other wine lovers, and sample the fruits of a previous harvest.
The first step in harvesting is to remove the nets, which protect the fruit from hungry birds. The process was aided by a new bailing machine Keith Johnstone deployed on the rear of his tractor. The machine has a platform to hold the net bag, and a bailing arm through which the net is threaded. It did require him to drive backwards through each row with Michael and myself as the tall guys running interference in front. We held the net up off the vines while Clay in the rear bed played spooler. It all worked surprisingly well, and nobody was run over. What could be better?
Amidst the scents of rain-damp earth and grapes, we took our buckets and clippers down row after row. The grapes bled juices that dripped down the dusky skins, soaking the earth as they were severed from the vine branch. I worked hard at not bursting grapes in the cluster, but when tendrils insisted on wrapping around a central branch it became a tug of war. I’ll admit, sometimes I lost a few grapes.
Gradually each bucket filled with grape clusters. We first harvested the Muscat’s, which were big and golden with brown tints and freckles, each bunch heavy in my hand. The Riesling grapes that we picked last were emerald green and smaller on tight clusters, hanging close to the parent stem. The grapes I sampled had good sugar, particularly the Muscat. Who could resist popping a few and imagining what the Muscat Canelli would taste like this year?
Visualizing the finished wine from the grapes I plucked from the vine took me back to the beginning of a wine’s journey. From the time the grapes are unloaded and go through the hurtles of the de-stemming machine, give up their juice and sometimes their skin to form the must, and begin the slow conversion to wine, the process of winemaking begins and ends with the grape.
After harvesting the grapes comes the celebration with a groaning board set with, um, if you haven’t eaten in a while, you might want to jump to the next paragraph. The table was laden with twice-baked potato, sausages, corn-on-the-cob, chicken, NY strips, fixins’ and deep dish apple pie for anyone braving the real possibility of bursting from too much food. I call it a groaning board because that’s the sound the table made as each dish was added.
The wine was principally Keith and Bobbi Johnstone’s, of course, both reds and whites. I stuck with the reds, particularly since my favorites were right there. The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon has wonderful herbal notes atop dark fruit and black pepper. The 2007 Cabernet Franc has ripe cherry and berry flavors with an under core of black pepper. Both will improve with age, but drink well now.
The feast was under a white tent set up on the green grass between the vineyards, where it sheltered several rows of tables. There sat the weary harvesters, enjoying the food and drink, the conversation, and the convivial atmosphere. It reminded me of a Renoir painting depicting a French countryside with shaded cloisters, the picnickers turned to the viewer, displaying the satisfied smiles that only come from those who cherish life. Yup, it looked just like that. Salut!