I love this time of year. The air is getting cool and the vines are growing heavy with grapes. Enough with the humidity already. I wanted to expand beyond the tasting rooms and festivals and get my hands dirty this year. I’ve heard all kinds of harvest stories, including but not limited to … staying up for days, crashing forklifts and encounters with all varieties of wildlife in order to safeguard the ripe, precious fruit.
So last month I put together an aggressive campaign to see if any local vineyards were looking for volunteer help. I’m quite a bargain as I’ll eagerly work for wine and experience. All I heard was crickets. Nobody said this was going to be easy. Is there a conspiracy to keep bloggers out of the vines?
Just when I was going to let it go, an opportunity presented itself. Dove Valley Vineyard, about an hour southwest of the city and just over the Mason Dixon, was looking for volunteers. The deal was to help for three hours in exchange for a bottle of wine & lunch. Sounds fair to me. How tough could it be?
The weather was absolutely perfect on this September Saturday morning. Sunny, cool and crisp. A straight shot down I-95 with minimal traffic. I was early & about two miles away so I stopped to grab a quick cup of coffee at Fox Hollow. I take it black & scorching hot & they were out of sleeves. I like to live on the edge.
I visited Dove Valley on one other occasion, a 60s night hoedown with my wine group (this is the south after all). Fun place. A group of about thirty people showed up to help out this morning.
So we had a short pow wow in the picnic pavilion before heading out to pick fruit. Dove Valley’s owner & winemaker, Harry gave a short set of instructions. He was attempting to recruit ‘de-leafers’ to pull off the leaves to expose the grapes for cutting, but there weren’t many takers. Most everyone wanted the shears. I guess cutting grapes is the cool job. A brisk walk to the vines with flats & buckets in tow followed. The bright-eyed, bushy tailed bunch of us were ready to get started.
When we were informed that lunch would be waiting for us afterwards, I couldn’t help but think of that farm scene from Napoleon Dynamite. I was hoping for something more of the barbeque variety.
The Vignoles grapes were waiting patiently. Harry wanted us to focus on the first three rows as there was another group picking tomorrow. But as things go, people moved beyond that area and all over the place. After a few hours, I was getting fairly proficient at rooting out & cutting grapes. Not much excitement beyond the occasional bee or birds nest. We were encouraged to taste the grapes. Very sweet & juicy and a fitting bridge between Count Chocula and the post harvest lunch.
The vineyard staff brought out flats for the pickers to fill from the buckets, and collected them as they were topped off. The workers were entertained by Dove Valley’s two resident canines roaming among the workers.
A bunch of us wandered down to the crushpad & press after picking to witness the early stages of production. Fascinating stuff, but long hard work this time of year. Harry’s crew isn’t getting much sleep lately. This will be the first year that the entire operation will take place in the new facility. After a series of setbacks with construction, things are finally moving forward with getting everything settled. When I noticed all of the stems that were being extracted from the fruit, Harry read my mind when he announced plans to produce a line of flavored Grappa at Dove Valley. More on that later.
So thankfully burgers, hot dogs & corn on the cob were the post picking delicacies. In exchange for our hard work, we could pick a bottle of Summer Hill semi-dry Merlot, the Bianca semi-dry white or chocolate raspberry dessert wine. To take home or enjoy on the premises. There was live acoustic entertainment as a festival was following which the group was welcome to stick around for.
The staff at Dove Valley was very welcoming and I had a blast, even though I’m not a morning person. Stop down if you’re in the neighborhood for a taste of Maryland.
If you’re really adventurous, check out Winestock in October. Cheers!