Monday morning, I got out of bed at 4am so that I could be at a Saratoga vineyard by 6am to help some friends pick grapes for a wine they intend to make under their new label, Thistle. The wine will be styled after those made in Côte-Rôtie – mostly Syrah co-fermented with a small percentage of Viognier (an aromatic white grape). The idea behind adding 5%-10% of Viognier to your Syrah has a few purposes, but the primary idea is that the Viognier makes the wine more fragrant and floral, while also bringing out the aromatics in the Syrah.
If you’ve never harvested grapes before, let it be known that it is some of the hardest work I’ve ever done. While the weather was initially cool and foggy, the sun eventually came out and gave us all a relentless beat-down. In addition to the hot sun, some of the vineyard was on a pretty steep hill, making it even more difficult to maintain a foothold and harvest the fruit. There were about 10 of us picking 1.25 acres, and while we worked hard, it still took us until about 3pm to finish the pick. The end result is highly satisfying, seeing the fruits of your labor (har) all neatly piled up in buckets and bins.
The greatest part about harvest is the group effort and camaraderie – everyone is working as hard as you are, and plugging along towards the same goal. Most people don’t know how much manual labor goes into the production of fine, hand-crafted wine. A lot of grapes are harvested by machines, but the best wines are gently harvested by hand.
The hard work and heat were punctuated by copious amounts of barbecue, delicious cider from Normandy, a little bit of Champagne, and the company of good friends. The shady knoll we had our picnic on was a welcome oasis.
Above: Thistle winemaker Aran Healy sabering a bottle of cider from Normandy with a pair of shears.