“Remarkable”. “Outstanding”. “The best vintage ever”.

These are the words of winemakers across Ontario when asked about this year’s grape harvest.  The ideal warm spring and the heat of the summer created near-perfect conditions for grape growing.  Grapes ripened seemingly overnight and winemakers began harvesting 3 to 5 weeks earlier than in previous years.  “We have not picked this early since 1971”, reported Roselyn Dyck co-owner of Cattail Creek Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake.  Teams of pickers began harvesting Cattail’s vineyard on August 23rd this year. “By starting early, it creates a bit of chaos at the winery,” laughs Roselyn.  “We are madly making room in the tanks for the new juice and reading the equipment on crush pad for the tonnes of grapes to come in.”
Then there are the marketing commitments. Lailey Vineyards winemaker Derek Barnett reported that he had to cancel trips and winemakers’ dinners because now he needs to be at the winery managing the harvest. “During September, we are usually doing a lot of watching & waiting. There is no waiting around this year.  In fact, I cancelled all of the wine events that I committed to because I need to be at the winery.”
What are they watching & waiting for?  During the harvest season, winemakers are constantly walking through their vineyard, randomly picking grapes straight off the vines.  With their instruments, they monitor and record the Brix levels of the grapes (Brix is a measurement of natural sweetness in the grapes. This numeric value determines the level of ripeness.).  “It is remarkable”, states Glenn Symons from Lighthall Vineyards in Prince Edward County, “the Pinot Noir is already up to 22 Brix.” Symons decides to leave the grapes on the vine a few more days in hopes that they will ripen further still to result in even better, bigger, juicier tastes that will show through in the wine.
This routine happens in every grape growing country in the world during harvest.  15-18 hour days are often spent roaming the vineyard, picking grapes, operating the de-stemmer, monitoring the crushing machine and pumping the juice into stainless steel tanks.
The picture above marks my 6th grape harvest. Yes, it is a bit hard on the back and knees, yet, lending a hand to winemakers when they really need it, gives me a great sense of community.  In the vineyards, teams of pickers chat away to each other through the vines about all kinds of things… wine is woven into the chatter somehow!  Gossip spreads like wild fire.  While picking at Bergeron Estates Winery this past weekend, chatter revolved around trips to the Maritimes, the pricing of wine, and interesting venues to host wine tasting events.

Meet many of these Outstanding winemakers!

On Friday October 19th, over 20 winemakers from Niagara’s Twenty Valley wine region (aka Niagara Escarpment) are leaving their harvesting duties to come to Ottawa for their first-ever wine tasting event. Join us! It is a great opportunity to learn more firsthand about what all happens during grape harvest and discover a new favorite Niagara wine.   The best part is that when you find a wine you like, you can order it directly from the winemaker. Buy your tickets here!

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