Saturday, September 8, 2007

frost grapes

We have a small vineyard. A very small vineyard. On our south facing slope of meadow we have planted 10 frost grape vines, vines wrestled, hacked, and hewn from the stone walls on our own property. It is rather miraculous, or "a good sign" as Caleb says, that these hoary vines have actually taken root and sprouted tender green leaves. "Frost" grape is the vernacular for wild Concord variations, grapes for jams, jellies, and rustic juice best picked in our northern clime after the first frost so they acquire a certain sweetness. We pick our wild grapes in early autumn to make schiacciata con l'uva, a flatbread studded with the black fruits, rosemary, anice, sugar, and brushed with olive oil. It is traditional to use grapes like these with seeds for the texture.

In addition to our wild-cum-cultivated grapes, we have planted some red and white varietals hardy to our zone: Marquette and Frontenac gris. We also have a mystery vine that is marked a white grape, but is ripening red. These grapes are all good for table grapes and for making wine. The vines twine up the pergola/balcony covering our terrace with leaves the size of a large dinner plates that rattle and rustle in the breeze heralding the inevitable autumn weather. This will be the first year for picking these grapes to make wine. We will buy from market the additional fruit we need, and try our hand at this experiement, or folly, depending on how you look at it.

We prepare to order more vines for next spring, to make a committment to the plot of field we've cordoned off for the purpose of growing grapes. We peruse catalogs from two nurseries here in Vermont. The Marquette is a grand-son of Pinot noir, light and fruity with spicy notes and the Frontenac Gris has a yellow-grey fruit, hence the name, that has an air of tropical fruit. This appeals to our wintered sensibility. We like the exotic thought of pineapple and banana.

I think that 50 plants will be enough to start. I calculate that we can make one bottle of wine from each vine, more or less. These vines, along with some red Frontenac and maybe St. Croix from Quebec for a rosato, would be the core of the vineyard. We are told they are a "sure thing". But we yearn to hedge our bets on a wild card: Nebbiolo, that austere and noble breed from northern Italy named after the winter fog. If they can grow these grapes in the Alps and extract elegant and light wines, we think we might have a very slight chance.


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