Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Wrath of Grapes

It's Labor Day weekend in America! A holiday that is usually filled with people taking part in their favorite summer traditions before fall really sets in. There are backyard barbecues, landscaping projects, and final dips in the swimming pool happening all around. But thanks to an abnormally warm summer, this pair of urban farmers spent the weekend taking part in a quintessential autumn experience. And that experience involved quite a bit more "labor" than either one of us could have imagined.

Stacia's mother has quite the farming streak of her own, and her latest endeavor is tending a one acre vineyard in the picturesque hills of northeast Iowa, not far from the town where Stacia grew up. She has been spending her summer caring for the vines and it was time for the harvest.

The vines were heavy with clusters of brilliant, purple fruit. After weeks of sampling the flavor and testing the sugar content of the grapes, she gathered up her family, friends, and neighbors to spend part of their weekend among the vines. Naturally, we couldn't let her down, so we grabbed our pruning shears and work gloves, and hit the road.

Neither one of us had much experience with grapes before, but the instructions seemed pretty simple.  Grab a ripe cluster of grapes, snip it off of the vine, place it in a bucket, and repeat. We settled in to a spot with lots of ripe fruit and started picking.

It sure didn't take long to realize that this was going to be hard work! The vines are tall, so we spent a lot of time with our necks and arms stretched upward. The sugary fruit was swarming with bees who loved their sweet flavor as much as we did. Each row seemed to stretch on and on, and when a row was finished, there was always another one to begin. Even on an overcast day, we quickly worked up a sweat.

Harvesting grapes is a task that hasn't changed much over the years. The grapes will burst if they are handled too roughly, so mechanical picking equipment is no substitute for a pair of hard working hands. Our hands were busy over the course of the weekend, and by time we were all done, our crew had taken 5,000 pounds of grapes from the vines.  A figure like that really puts our backyard harvests into perspective!

Spending time working in the vineyard got us hot, tired, sweaty and achy, but it also gave us a new appreciation for all the hard work that goes into crafting a bottle of wine. We'd worked ourselves to the absolute brink of exhaustion working a single acre, and we didn't even harvest everything we could have. If we'd had the energy to stick around, we could have picked lots more. But it was really all we could do to haul ourselves back to town for some rest as the grapes were hauled down the road to be turned into wine.

As we sit back at home to compose this post, we're enjoying a lovely glass of last season's red wine that is easy to sip, but took quite the effort to make. If we're fortunate enough to get some wine made from this year's crop, it will probably taste even better knowing that we contributed our part into that effort.

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