I’m waving away a wasp buzzing around a smear on my glasses, it’s probably interested in some of the juice from the grapes I’m helping to pick in this Okanagan vineyard. There’s a sticky coating on my gloves, skin and some of my clothing, and the air is dotted with wasps drunk on fruit.
It’s so gorgeous here that the french murmurings from the pickers wandering down another row are making me believe I’m on a movie set instead of real life. Although the dull ache in my back after bending too much tells me it’s true to life.
We’re experiencing the beginnings of Autumn in the Okanagan, and even though it’s earlier than usual it’s time to start harvesting grapes to make wine. The wasps are pretending it’s summer as the warmth of the sun starts peeking out between the clouds waking the distasteful creatures up.
The golden-tinged vineyard laden with fruit certainly has the unreal feeling of a movie set, and I look around expecting to hear the clinking of wine glasses and a director yelling “cut.”
It goes down slowly….
Morning settles in, and clouds start skimming edges of blue skies, light brightening leaves as it moves across the valley.
I’m trying not to compare my slower progress to the seasoned pickers dotting the rows as they perch on overturned plastic buckets to pick. Bodies swaddled in layers of jackets against the morning chill they work their way down the row. When their buckets are full they will be emptying them into the large square wooden bins placed at the end of the rows.
The growling tractor spurts black clouds of diesel smoke that linger in our hair and clothes, and I’m wondering how well that works as a wasp repellant.
A deep plie, ballet style squat gets me down low enough [this is a good workout for your thighs believe me] and since I can’t sit on the plastic buckets like everyone else, I end up wiggling my pruners between the vines searching for the spot blindly where the stem of the cluster meets the vine. With the grapes hanging so low to the ground, it’s hard to see them unless you bend down low enough. Thankfully this year they’re pruned higher than the first time a few inches makes a big difference in how much easier they are to pick.
Being tall makes it harder to see the low hanging clumps, and I end up dipping my face into the leaves which is why I’m covered in syrupy juice from the grapes and a real wasp magnet.
My back forces me to give up after picking a few pails, [what a shame…not] I start my much easier job as the “official” photographer and recorder of tales of the vineyard.
There’s a moment of excitement when bear scat is discovered in one of the rows making everyone look over their shoulders for a sugar-hungry, brown furry creature who is probably happiest avoiding us.
It’s a pressing matter
After measuring Brix [the sugar levels in the grapes] with a refractometer, a tool that determines the sugar levels it’s been decided that now is a good time to harvest. They are looking for the time that the grapes give the best balance of flavor and potential alcohol content.
It takes a few days to pick the fruit, with each variety of grape producing a different type of wine. The flavor of the wine can be affected by many factors, the variety of grape, the region it’s grown in, soil conditions, the Okanagan is known to have rather sweet, high sugar grapes that produces world-class award winning vintages.
As the tractor putts off up the road carrying a heavy wooden box of just-picked grapes, I follow it up to the shop.
I watch as the grapes that just arrived at the crushing area are shoveled into the “de-stemmer a machine with a circulating auger that works hard to separate the fruit from the stems.
Discarded stems drop into a box below the machine and will be composted, while the remaining slurry of crushed fruit referred to as “must” [pulp] is pumped through a large tube to the press for extraction.
And it’s a sticky situation
When the must is pushed through the long tube to the press it’s poured into a tall stainless steel cylinder that looks like a giant metal straight sided sieve.
Shining stainless steel sitting on a tiltable stand, the 5-foot tall machine with it’s thousands of small holes in the walls will be busy filtering juice from the must.
In order to squish the flavorful juice out of the must a black rubber “bladder” inserted inside the cylinder is being filled with air, and water until it expands fully [like blowing up a balloon in a mason jar that has many holes on the sides] the pressure will continue to squeeze the juice out of the grapes for the next a half hour or so.
The beautifully tinted grape juice is squished out of the press spilling into the tray below where it’s funneled into buckets which are then poured into a giant fermenting tank the size of two stacked hot tubs.
Tanks for the memories
The heavy remains of the grapes or must are left behind in the sieve like press, but this time a liner makes it much easier to pull the enormous wad of squished leftover fruit out. A pulley system holds up the very heavy lid, and the press is tipped forward, the liner pulled out, emptied, and it’s back to the next batch.
A special wine making yeast will be added to the juice which will be left to do what wine does during the fermenting process, which can take many months. When the wine is ready it will be bottled, labeled and sold in the winery.
It’s been predicted that the extensive heat from this summer may produce one of the best vintages in years, if not lifetimes…and since the Okanagan is known for it’s amazing wines so I’m certainly looking forward to tasting vintage 2015.
It’s interesting to find out just how much hard work and labor goes into each delightful sip of wine, the next time I savor a sip I’ll be thinking about this day.
Jen @ The Light Laughed
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