The other day, while cruising my piece of the twitterverse I saw a call for neighborhood volunteers to help harvest grapes at Zorvino Vineyards, and that there was a free bottle of wine for any volunteers. I had some time on my hands (later I would have something else on my hands) so I hopped in the car and drove over. I will work for wine is not just a slogan on a tee shirt for me. I walked into the vines where they were picking and they handed me a bucket and pruners and said to start anywhere along the row we were in. Never having picked grapes I asked if there were any special instructions and they said nope, just get ’em all and don’t worry about the leaves in the way.
I set to my task. A woman next to me introduced herself as Katie. Tom Zack, wine director at Zorvino shouted a hello from a couple of rows over and Jim Zanello, the owner, was sitting on a bucket picking grapes. To my left Ken Evers, the winemaker there started a conversation. They were all very happy with the crop and all saying they thought this was their best one yet. I asked about previous years and Ken said that last year they had a frost just at bud break and they lost all the primary buds, so virtually no harvest last year. The year before torrential rain took its toll. This can be a heartbreaking business. Sometimes I try to remember that when I’m paying for a bottle of wine. On any level of production it is a very labor-intensive business, and can be very risky with regards to the elements that you can’t control, like weather.
Katie makes a trip to dump our buckets and comes back asking if we know what these are, holding up the empty buckets. She says, “French ladders” and I cracked up. Her family is in the construction business. I’m pulling these tight clusters of small berries and finally ask Ken, “What are we picking?” He answers, “Valiant.” In my head I’m thinking, “Valiant, not even a noble grape. I have to look that up.” Tasting the small blue berry, that actually looked just like enormous blueberries, it made a pretty good table grape. Later looking it up I saw that table grape was one of the more prevalant descriptions for the grape. Ken tells me that he uses it as a blending grape, perhaps this year with Niagara (which should help tame some of the wildness Niagara is known for). He also tells me that the grape is particularly suseptible to a powdery mildew and has found none on the grapes this year. Ken is especially happy because this is the first year Jim has let him be in charge of the grapes.
According to Appellation America Vitis Valiant, the Valiant grape was developed in South Dakato by Dr. Ron Peterson at the state university. It is purported to be hardy to minus 70° F, making it incredibly cold hardy, and grown in areas with particularly harsh winter climates. The grape is known to be low in acid and high in sugar, which accounts for why it makes excellent jelly too.
After those brief snippets of conversation the picking kind of settles down into this quiet zen-like zone. I’m smelling the strong aroma of the grapes and feeling the sticky juice all over my hands. I wanted to take a picture of my hands but didn’t want to stain my iphone. Bees come and go and occasionally get nosy about what’s in my bucket. I hear Ken and Jim saying something about crushing nearly a ton of fruit so far. Soon enough I had to leave and, even though I was a sweaty purple mess, promised to come back in a week or so when they would be picking again. I was invited to choose whatever wine I wanted. Since it was a warm day and I was making a chicken and wild rice dinner I picked their CranbreeZ, made from 100% Massachusetts cranberries.
In my quest this summer to become more familiar with the vineyards near where I live Zorvino was one of the first places I visited. They are located in Sandown, NH, on Main St. (route 121A) and they are open daily from noon to 5pm. They have a great post and beam function facility with a gazebo outside overlooking the vines too. Read my post: NH Wineries – Zorvino Vineyards 7/13/11 to see how much fun a tasting room/winery visit is there. You know you’re not going to a chateau to taste an outstanding first class Bordeaux but, especially for anyone visiting in New England, or new to wine, this is a place where you get one on one attention from people truly passionate about what they’ve made. I always say that the experience is the most important part of tasting or drinking wine. It’s the company you’re with, the environment, the food, etc. that determines as much about whether you like a wine as do the qualities of the grape itself. Go visit. You’ll have a good time.