In February this email list wandered from things WINE into Notes on Small-time Business.
This week we are back to grapes and the harvest chatter in the winemaker’s brain.
Before talking about grapes, I want to talk chokecherries. Pictured above, they are growing in the wilds along a Saskatchewan lake that feeds into the Assiniboine River and finally Hudson Bay.
They don’t grow in bunches or have a high sugar content, but they’ve got some things that we love in grapes: tannins, textured skins, dark colour, and seed material. A winemaker hears these words and thinks about tossing some into a vat to see what happens.
For grapes we already have the information; countless farmers have tossed grapes into a vat and sniffed them a few times before sticking them into jugs in the storeroom.
There’s not a lot of prep work for the pick and squish harvest, a contrast to what larger wineries are doing right now: servicing tractors and other equipment, testing glycol systems and cleaning vessels, and lining up labour. It’s a lot of calendar juggling too. There are a finite number of picking days, meaning that a large chunk of work MUST get completed in a small window.
A small winery has more leeway in its calendar because of the small processing volumes, and the winemaker can choose to take on the risk of styling the wine on the spot. Off-script means micro-controlling things like the hour of the pick, the duration of skin contact, the amount of air exposure in the ferment, or the exact manipulation of a ferment’s cap.
Big or small winery, it’s universal that a winemaker (or farmer) has a limited number of vintages in a lifetime, so every harvest has meaning. For a moment in time, the entire focus is on one thing. The pressure can be stressful because the stakes are high, and it can be liberating because getting wrapped up in a task is something we naturally crave.
I’ve talked about capturing the vintage in the bottle as being the winemaker’s reward, but the gift is the moment of doing the work. It’s stained hands when ferments come to life on the grape skins, and it’s much like the satisfaction of being 7 and getting your fingers into the pail of berries you picked (and it’s more than the fingers getting stained).
This current vintage has challenging variables like heat, fires, and reduced labour, but the grace of the work is waiting nonetheless. The journey starts at some wineries in a few short weeks.
See you next week,
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