The opportunity to harvest grapes drew 40 volunteers to the Charron Vineyards. Photo by Roberta Davis.
“The grapes go from vine, to Bonnie, to crate, to golf cart, to crusher/de-stemmer, to press, to tank, to bottle, to Bonnie.”
Milton Craig, owner of Charron Vineyards, Vail, AZ, with his wife Susan, explained the wine-making process for me in that one line because I was one of the 40 volunteers who answered the call to harvest this year’s crop of Merlot grapes. It’s been on my bucket list for years, so I jumped at the chance.
Last Saturday, shortly before 3:00am, I woke to soft rain on the roof, a sound that typically rocks me deep into peaceful slumber. Instead the clock radio rocked me in a different direction with “I Found Your Picture Today” by Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow. I kicked myself out of bed and prepared for a very early morning jaunt. Barely daylight and still drizzling, we made our way up the winding, rocky lane off Route 83 that led us to the scene of our intent, arriving at just about 5:00 am.
Armed with simple instructions of our duties and a pair of very sharp clippers, about a half-dozen of us early arrivals headed to vineyard B to begin our assignment. Working opposite sides of each vine, row after row, my friend Katherine Waser and I clipped away and chatted freely about the superb weather conditions (overcast with a cool breeze), life, friends, and the idiosyncrasies of grapes.
Jeff and Tracy Skinner clip Merlot grapes from the vines.
Crate after crate we filled with bounty. Emma, the Craig’s daughter, traveled the rows of vines by golf cart, collecting filled crates to transport to the crusher/de-stemmer machine. Always with a fresh supply of drinking water, she also served up sunscreen, bug spray, and band-aids for the needy. Katherine nipped her finger only once; I developed a blister on my clipping thumb.
Side-by-side we worked with a crew that soon grew to 40-strong. For many of us, this was a first-time harvesting experience; others were old hands. One entire vineyard down by 9:00 am; it’s amazing how quickly the hours flew by and how many crates we filled. When the last of the vineyard A grapes had been weighed, we learned that we’d already topped the record yield for any of the vineyard’s previous years’ total hauls.
Did we bask in our glory? No, we clipped on. When the sun cleared the cloud cover and the breeze took a break, we shed a layer of clothing, sprayed on sunscreen, and went back to clipping. By noon, we had clipped our way through three of the four vineyards on the nearly three-acre property. A hearty lunch was our pay.
Back to the fields after lunch with only one more vineyard to conquer. A couple more hours of work in the then hotter sun and an ongoing battle with gnats, drawn out by the heat, rounded out our 9-hour-plus day. A refreshing cool glass of Charron Vineyards White Merlot 2009 awaited us in the tasting room. The de-stemmer machine droned on into the night to process all the grapes.
Milt and Susan Craig thank the volunteers for their record-breaking crop.
Craig reports that the final tally for 2010 harvest was a whopping 12,411 pounds of Merlot grapes, more than double the previous high yield. He attributes this to vineyard management – they had added a fence to prevent deer from helping themselves to the grapes, and Susan’s daily tours of each row of the vineyard kept problems at bay.
“Thanks to everyone who helped with the harvest; we couldn’t have done it without you,” Craig said.
The ultimate fruits of our labor will come when the 2010 White Merlot is released. We’ll all toast it with the thought that our grubby little hands contributed to its overall complexity and smoothness.
As for the bucket list check-off, I think I could be convinced to do this again. What an incredibly peaceful way to be part of a productive and amiable community.