Cheers to A Successful Season!

My first experiences with the marathon that is a winery-based harvest came at Blomidon Estate in Nova Scotia, then later back in Ontario at Creekside.  I was completely unprepared for the long haul that loomed ahead.

Prior to Blomidon I was only familiar with the limited perspective of the grape grower.  When the crop was off, your job was done!  I was ignorant to the efforts that went into processing and fermenting our freshly picked fruit.  My early days in Nova Scotia taught me that it was far more difficult being responsible for the combined task of growing the grapes and making the wine.  Despite the initial ass-kicking, I somehow rationalized starting my own winery just a few years later.

I took much of what I learned at Blomidon and applied it at Five Rows.  As a smaller producer than most, I concede we have it easy compared to the big guys, and that is partly by design.  Our collection of varietals lends itself to a nice even picking schedule, with a bit of a break mid-harvest.  While everyone else is taking in Chardonnay and Merlot, we usually have the time to finish up pressing Pinot Noir and begin preparation for Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Each vintage is it’s own beast, a grueling battle with much reward at the end.  Days seem to go on forever early in September then rapidly get shorter as the season draws to a close.  The evening feast is the shining beacon at the end of each day and beer becomes your religion.

Then rather abruptly, like a wall of lake effect snow, it’s all over and you are left wondering what to do with yourself.  You are conditioned to getting up and hitting the ground running, now there is actually time for reflection and leisure.  The daily caffeine and adrenalin rush is no longer required, but can be hard to ween yourself from.

Mostly you try to get back to a normal life.  Your significant other barely remembers who you are and rightfully expects you to make up for three months of being absent and tired.  So now is the time to give back.

This year I spent my first day of “freedom” raking leaves in the snow, walking the dogs and picking up groceries…and enjoying every minute of it!

The End is Near

So it all comes down to this.  November is upon us and all grapes are off, save the few robust rows Cabernet Sauvignon we’ve chosen to hang until the bitter end.

They desperately cling to their yellowing leaves as the last few rays of fall sunshine hopefully find enough green chlorophyll pigments to move the ripeness needle just a bit further in our favour.  They are likely ripe enough to pick, but they are also clean enough to hang until all the foliage has been exhausted.  Every tick of extra sugar and reduction in total acidity is a welcome bonus at this stage.

It is the exact scene I anticipated earlier in the Spring as all varietals got off to a sluggish start.  We knew we would be pushing the limits to make quality wine – we had no other choice.  The thought of hand-harvesting in the bitter, damp cold of November is intimidating, but when you are so close to the end of a long season, motivation seems easier to summon and these days can actually prove to be glorious!

The most harrowing part of this waiting game is the relentless nature of the birds.  They are wiser and more brazen by this time in the season, blatantly ignoring bird-bangers and finding creative ways to circumvent our seemingly impenetrable nets.  The only true deterrent is a crazed farmer willing to spend the entire day riding around in his vehicle of choice, unleashing whatever unholy racket he can muster.  They will undoubtedly have nightmares about what these frustrating flocks are doing to their grapes, it is what drives them to be up at the crack of dawn to do it all over again.