Wednesday, December 8, 2010

vendanges, vendemmia, harvest

The tail edges of a tropical storm are decidedly un-tropical as the wind buffets the house and barn and a fine sleet falls, or is this hail?  Could it even be snow? Luckily, the rainy weather this past November happened well beyond harvest.  This year we picked grapes on September 18th, and apples mid-October.  Last year, the grape harvest didn’t happen until mid-October, and the apples, well, we were in the middle of November when we pressed.  Given the current climactic  patterns for the last month, we are glad that the season was early.  Of course, the question is--will this be the way it will be?  Or just an anomaly?

A friend who works for a vineyard in California writes that they were able to blog, twitter, and facebook (I still can’t believe these are verbs…) during their harvest and how thrilling it was to get people far away involved in the process.  Maybe next year we will be able to write simultaneously.  We settle for writing about harvest now, almost two months after the fact, and just like the tail end of this storm, we are even at the tail end of the harvest cantina work.   This was our first official la garagista harvest, the first harvest with almost a thousand pounds of grapes.  In the past, we’ve worked with 50 pounds of each variety, so the jump to a thousand  was quite steep.  And to think, we had been hoping for two thousand pounds.  Since our season here in Vermont was so hot and dry, the yield was lower, and the grower we worked with outside of the small town of Vergennes out near Lake Champlain had to lower our take in order to satisfy his commitments to all his winemakers.  Sometimes things actually do happen for a reason.

The actual processing of the grapes went beautifully—a lovely surprise as we really didn’t know what we were in for.  We picked our grapes on a Saturday morning, working until well after lunch, and then  did a full night’s work at the restaurant.  We took that following Monday through Wednesday, our usual farm days, to get the harvest in.  Thanks to our intrepid volunteers: Eliza, Zanna, JT, Rebecca, Erle, Michael, Todd, Mark, and Gina—Caleb and myself were able to hand de-stem, sort, and crush in three days.  We began on a very cool morning with the white La Crescent which went through our tiny press on its first outing.  We broke for lunch, a simple pasta made of sausage and tomatoes and finished with a beautiful apple tart that Rebecca made at the restaurant for us to bring home.  The work started up again after lunch.  White grapes can be reluctant with their juice, and between the new press and handling white grapes for the first time, it took a long time. 
As evening fell, there were glasses of wine and hearty cookies to keep us warm in the wine garden where we were doing the sorting and pressing during the day, and when it got too dark, we moved the operation inside to the barn.  We broke for dinner inside at about ten-thirty that night having de-stemmed, sorted, and pressed four hundred pounds of white grapes.

The same happened the next day, but with the red grapes.  We spent all day de-stemming and sorting.  In the early evening, when we moved into the barn, the must sitting at the bottom of the white wine demijohns rose to the surface with a whoosh at the same time the full moon rose, the wild fermentation beginning all on its own.  Uncanny, how the natural world behaves.   Later,  Caleb prepared roast chicken that he served in the barn in a steaming black skillet.  There were salume, cheeses, and roast potatoes.  And of course, bottles of wine to keep us warm and up the the task of the work. 

It was the next day that we crushed the red grapes by feet in our half wooden barrels.  This was surprisingly quick, the red grapes being far more happy than the white grapes to relinquish juice.  We scooped the juice and must into the big vat, and a couple of smaller ones too, and here they sat foaming and fermenting for three weeks before going into thick glass demijohns for the next part of their journey.

When I began this entry it was mid-November and all the fermentation was finally complete, and the wines were transferred off the gross lees (the spent grape skins at the bottom of the demijohns) and into new demijohns for their elevage over the winter.  Now, we have returned from three weeks of traveling abroad.  The ciders, which we pressed a couple of weeks after the wine, have finished their gyrations, and we taste everything to be sure all the vessels are on track.  The evolution of the flavors amaze, even at this early juncture. 
Now, is the time of waiting and letting the winter days work their mysterious magic.


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