Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pickin' and Sippin' at Bergeron Estate Winery -Travel

This weeks blog is a little different from my regular wine discussion as I'm going to talk about travelling to a vineyard to pick grapes. What a great experience! If you have been following my blog you already know that I love everything about wine from growing grapes to tasting the final fermented product so when I had an opportunity to participate in a grape harvest at a winery in Prince Edward County, I literally jumped at the chance to get in on the action. I met Dave Bergeron, the owner of Bergeron Estate winery at my first wine tasting course and found out that he takes volunteers to pick grapes during the fall harvest. The grape pickers supply a days labour of harvesting grapes in the sushine and fresh air of the Lake Ontario shoreline and Dave and Mary Bergeron supply refreshments, a nice lunch with wine samples and a bottle of Bergeron Estates wine for volunteer pickers. Sounds like a good deal to me so my wife and I signed up.

 Fall grape harvest is primarily dependent on the BRIX level (sugar content of the grape juice) so weekends dedicated for picking are not fully realized until the temperature, sunshine, rainfall and grape maturity factors meet at a specific point on the calendar. Leading up to harvest, It's pins and needles for the winery owners as they constantly watch the weather and the grapes, waiting for the little fella's to hit the correct BRIX level. If you have more than one grape variety to be picked like Bergeron Estates which has Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Gewurztraminer then you are juggling a few balls at once. Pick to early and you don't get the full potential of the grape. Pick too late and you risk losing part of the crop to rot so choosing the perfect time to pick is an art in it's self.

After a few emails with Dave to line up the grape picking date, we had our weekend reserved to experience the "grape harvest". There was a slight hint of concern in my wife's voice when I signed us up as I'm not exactly in the best physical condition and have put on a "few" pounds over the years which might make picking a little more challenging. I tried to sell the idea as some sort of aerobic exercise followed by wine drinking but there was still some skepticism in my wife's voice. After a bit of discussion over wine, some used car salesman pitches by me, we finally decided to go through with it by making it a weekend mini-vacation. We booked the cottage at the winery which Dave offers at a discounted rate to picking volunteers. Our suitcases packed and the anticipation of standing in the sunshine picking Pinot Noir grapes, we rolled down the 401 towards Prince Edward County with a Tim Horton's coffee in our hand on a bleary-eyed early Saturday morning.

 It wasn't long after we arrived at the winery that Dave had us outfitted with pruners, buckets, some more coffee and a couple of delicious apple donuts made fresh locally. A brief introduction to the winery staff, his son Nick, a 2 minute "how to pick Pinot Noir grapes" demonstration and we were off and running. My wife and I were on opposite sides of the row so we could chat back and forth through the vines as we picked. A couple of times I had to stand up and have a look around to enjoy the view of perfectly aligned rows of full grape vines stretching towards the lake and also to relieve some of the lower back pain I was beginning to feel due to the way I was stooped over picking. I also noticed that my wife was no longer opposite me but about 10 vines down picking away with her bucket almost full again. When she mentioned that my picking pace was a little slow I had to remind her that I was also here to study viticulture and soak up the experience so it was important to stop every once in awhile to study some of the grape clusters and wait till my wheezing and back pain had stopped.

 Halfway through the afternoon, I learned my first lesson about picking grapes. Wear gloves! Pinot Noir grapes are thin skinned and very juicy. Wasps like grape juice so they tend to hang around the grape clusters that are close to the ground and broken. As I found out, wasps hiding on grape clusters you are about to pick don't like to be squeezed with the grapes. Rather than fly away or get out of the way they react in a negative manner by stinging you which you respond to by saying ..Son a bitch that hurts!! Luckily, I remembered what my son in law told me about wasp stings and that they can be removed if you don't scratch the bite area first. The second lesson I learned about picking grapes and wearing gloves is if you squeeze to hard when picking the grapes, they explode in your hands and you end up covered in grape juice. By lunch time, my watch and hands up to my wrists were coated in juice. Lesson learned

  Mary and Dave Bergeron had a great chili lunch organized for the pickers as well as a tasting of the winery's newest addition, Cole Point apple cider. After a relaxing lunch in the sun chatting with our fellow pickers, sipping wine and cider we were back at it filling buckets full of Pinot Noir grapes and getting the hang of picking with some efficency. The day came to a close and we loaded up the final buckets of Pinot Noir to be taken for processing which was good timing as my back was beginning to feel the pain and stiffness of being bent over most of the day.

 After the picking was done and I was able to stand in the semi erect position, Dave invited us back to watch the grapes being de-stemmed, crushed and pumped into tanks. It's a beautiful sight seeing the buckets of grapes being dumped into the destemmer, the thick purple juice containing the skins and juice flowing down a pipe into the holding tank and the stems falling out the end of the destemmer machine to be recycled as compost. I don't want to sound corny but this is satisfying work as you literally see the fruits of your labour at the end of the day. The vines picked clean, grapes macerating in the tanks and the stems heading for compost. The days picking is done !

Day 2 started at the cottage with some groaning, coffee, breakfast and a couple of Advil for my back. With a day of picking experience under our belts, we were back at it picking away with some efficency and productivity. Dave's son Nick joined us for picking and kept us entertained with his ability to be a picker, motivational speaker, story teller, grape sampler and foreman. Sunday's volunteer grape harvesters were a local minor hockey team supervised by some of their parents plus a few pickers from the previous day. Combining the energy level of teenage hockey players hyped up on apple donuts with the other pickers, it didn't take long to finish picking the rest of the Pinot Noir and the afternoon was spent harvesting some the Gewurztraminer rows. We finished up a little early on Sunday, headed back to the cottage to clean up and my wife and I finished the day off with another wine sampling in the tasting room. Dave gave us a tour of the tasting room and showed us the planned 2011 expansion to include a cider tasting bar which should be very impressive when finished. The weekend closed with Dave Bergeron, my wife and I sitting by a campfire drinking a bottle of wine looking out on to Lake Ontario enjoying the view and talking about what else but wine. Volunteering to pick grapes at a winery is a lot of fun and if your looking for a weekend adventure that's a little different and rewarding at the same time, I highly recommend it. A special thanks to Dave, Mary and Nick Bergeron for an entertaining weekend.

By the way, I'm getting in better shape for the 2011 harvest

If you would like to contact Dave Bergeron or visit the winery, here's the details

Bergeron Estate Winery
9656 Loyalist Parkway
Adolphustown, Ontario



Here's my pick for this week.

Bergeron Estate Winery - 2009 - Gamay Noir

We picked their grapes so we might as well review the wine. Their Gamay is light red in colour with an aroma of strawberries, pepper, earthiness, spice and cotton candy in the background. Flavours of cherry, spice, cedar with a smokey medium tannic finish of dark cherries and pepper.
Price - only available at the Bergeron Estate winery or some local PEC restaurants
I like this wine for a couple of reasons. First, the winery is relatively new and to be producing a quality Gamay like their 2009 is no small feat. Second, like most Gamay's this wine is a light/medium bodied wine so it's not heavy or overpowering which makes it a very pleasant and easy going wine with lots of flavour.

Cheers !