This past Friday I participated in my first harvest of the 2016 vintage. It was the first time I have ever harvested Chardonnay. In the past, I’ve helped to harvest Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Traminette, Chambourcin, Pinot Gris and Carmenere. Every time I help harvest grapes, I learn something about vineyards in general, the specific vineyard and place, the grape I am harvesting, and most of all about myself.
This year, I learned about the shapes and growth of Chardonnay clusters. I learned how early summer hail and late summer high heat can effect grapes and how to recognize that damage. I am very happy to report that the damage was minimal. Other specific locations in Northern Virginia were hit hard with hail damage in May or so.
As for what I learned about myself, I learned that this city girl who was born and raised in New York City (Queens) finds part of herself out in the vineyard. Whether it is a pre-tasting room walk about the vineyard to take in the sights and sounds or working with clippers in sticky dirty hands harvesting grapes, I find another part of me – the nature lover and the person that loves to be part of something very special.
While drinking my coffee this early morning, I realized that today will mark the beginning of my 6th year helping to harvest grapes rather than 5th as I had thought. I started working part time in the Virginia wine industry in March of 2012 so this would be the 5th harvest, however, my first harvest was in October of 2011 not as an employee of a winery or vineyard but as a customer and volunteer.
Back in October of 2011, Rich and I helped harvest Cabernet Sauvignon at Casanel Vineyards in Leesburg, Virginia. I have photographs of the grapes from back then and they weren’t pretty. The year 2011 was a rough year on Virginia winemaking. In August, hurricane Irene imposed her wrath on us and on her heels a nor’easter. Seventeen inches of rain feel in a month and a half and I remember one sunny day out of 30. Mother Nature’s reminder to all that despite all the great love and care shown in the vineyard that she ultimately decides what the year will bring to the farmer.
I stood in the vineyards with clippers in hands and a cluster of Cabernet Sauvignon in my glove feeling the sun warming on my shoulder on what had started as a very cool fall morning. Little did I know at that very moment that something deep within me was awakening and that I was going to find my true passion – wine, winemaking, and viticulture.
In March of 2012, I started working part time at Barrel Oak Winery in the tasting room after my husband became suddenly unemployed and was underemployed for a good part of a year. I loved working in the tasting room. It gave me social interactions that I missed having in my IT day world and it gave me a forum to explore and share my passion – wine and wine knowledge. I would decide to move on from Barrel Oak Winery in January of 2014 and found myself being courted by a few wineries without even having to apply. Katie DeSouza whom I had gotten to know as a customer of Casanel and through a local monthly tasting group was on the doorstep of becoming the family’s winemaker along with a consultant who at the time was not yet know. I had a feeling about Katie. I knew she would do wonderful things and I accepted the job.
Now it is 2016 and I’m at Casanel Vineyards & Winery back where it all started. Later today I’ll have many a cluster of Chardonnay in my glove and once again I’ll be feeling the sun warming on my shoulder on what had started as a very cool fall morning.
Perhaps this is where I was meant to be all along.
Tomorrow morning, before the crack of dawn, my husband and I will load up the car and hit the road embarking on our first trip (non-family visit) in a couple of years. It seems that vacations, road trips or breaks have been few and far between due to job demands, schedules, and vacation balances. The central focus of this trip will be two and a half days experiencing and learning about Vermont wines, ciders, meads, beers, spirits, foods and products as part of #tastecamp 2016 #VT
Tastecamp provides bloggers, writers and others to share in a specific region’s fares and this year’s focused region is the state of Vermont. The attendees will be given the great opportunity to meet with winemakers, cider makers, brewers, distillers and other local producers of various other products.
I am excited to be able to participate and to be able to experience Vermont as part of this amazing event. I am excited to meet many people that I’ve followed and interacted with for years via their blogs and other social media outlets.