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It's a Bad Time to be a Grape

 I can’t believe it is already fall. We went from a rainy summer, to a hot and dry last few weeks of September. (I know, I know summer wasn’t long enough) Harvest is becoming the topic of conversation in wine country and harvesting Riesling and Pinot Noir grapes has already begun.    Veraison, meaning the ripening of the grapes or the change in the colour of the grapes is setting in and as the berries begin to change colour growers need to protect their grapes.

It’s the time of year when the grapes begin to ripen and hang deliciously and naturally become a smorgasbord for the wildlife around here.  Birds, particularly Starling, arrive in mesmerizing flocks and attack vineyards like a plague of locusts. The deer and racoons also enjoy the sweet fruits of our labour.  

Bird bangers (initially the bane of my existence) clack and bang constantly, forever fighting to keep birds off of the tender and ripening fruit right up until harvest.  I’ve heard more than one tourist complain about the nuisance of the loud machines, but some vineyards find them necessary and helpful in keeping the pesky birds from eating the fruits of their labour.  Some wineries choose the more natural method, like Featherstone’s Louise Engel who flies and trains her hawk to deal with bird pressure. They are very effective in scaring away those grape hungry starlings. We once called Louise when a flock of starlings was decimating our vineyard, and like a superhero (sans cape) she and her hawk named “Amadeus” arrived and the minute he went into the air, the sky went quiet. 

September and October are the two busiest months in the vineyard and also for wine tourism.   People get to see vineyards and farm equipment in action (most of the equipment has been sitting for 9 months). It’s not uncommon to see large harvesters with blinking lights meander down the wine route, or see dotted hats and farm hands labouring away in vineyards.

It’s a wonderful time to take an organized tour, or drive yourself around wine country.  Don’t expect to talk to many wine makers though…we often say that talking to a winemaker during harvest is like talking to a firefighter when they are trying to put out a fire.  The trees and the grapes change colour and remind us once again that time is ticking on and soon another successful vintage will be under our belts. 
It is a very exciting and busy time in wine country. The entire growing season from bud-break, tracking the weather and maturation of grapes and fruit ripeness all leads up to this next few months.  Grapes will be plucked by hand or machine harvested, some of them hand sorted or optically sorted, then crushed, soaked, punched, put in tank or barrel and all of us grape growers and vintners will breathe a big sigh of relief.

It might be a bad time to be a grape…but it’s a wonderful time to live and work in winecountry and watch the vineyards come to fruition.  I look forward to trying all of the new and exciting wines to come.
Cheers to harvest 2017! And keep drinking Ontario Wines.
Christina and Andrew Brooks own and  operate Crush on Niagara Wine Tours and live on a 10 acre vineyard in Beamsville, ON, Niagara    1.866.408.WINE(9463)