The land in front of my house was carved out of a vineyard, and my friend who sold me the land still farms the remaining grapes. No money changes hands, but the advantage to me is that I get to live in a vineyard. While most of the grapes are mechanically harvested Concords, there are about eight rows of Chardonnay that we usually hand pick, because they are worth over $1,000 a ton on the market, compared to less than $300 for Concord.
My neighbors and I have been doing this together since I moved here, and conditions today – dry with temps starting out in the mid-50s – were ideal. This compares with 2012, when due to some miscommunication with a winery, the grapes got a bit overripe, it was a warm day, and the yellow jackets were out in force circling around our sweet and sticky hands.
While the weather was perfect, the picking was slow going. Normally, all the vines would have had their canes (young wood from which the shoots form) tied to the wires, and we would have had a well defined fruiting zone with large, regular clusters of grapes. This year due to winter damage, pruning and tying was done with a goal of preserving whatever survived, resulting in irregular clusters of fruit all over the place. The task today was to pick about two dozen boxes that had been sold, comprising three rows. The remaining grapes are still looking for a home, which is odd considering that we should be in a suppliers market. Sadly, a quick check of the marketplace shows no activity for Chardonnay. This is possibly due to last year’s record quantities, but for whatever reason is seems hard for growers to catch a break.
After about three hours, the boxes are filled and we enjoy some lunch and each other’s company. A home made 2008 Chardonnay is tasting quite well, and considering it is not a commercial wine, it is impressive that it is holding its own after six years. The gentleman in the center is looking through a refractometer, confirming our grower’s estimate that the Chardonnay is at about 19° of brix. Hopefully, we will get another few weeks of good ripening and a buyer.