Today, September 5, 2017, we drove up to Thurmont, MD, to volunteer to pick grapes at the Catoctin Breeze Vineyard. The deal was to work 4 hours picking grapes and receive a lunch and a bottle of wine in return.
I thought this would be an interesting retirement experience. I would have the opportunity to see some of the workings of a vineyard and what it was like to harvest the grapes.
We started at 8 a.m. and stopped at 12:30 p.m. As none of the other volunteers took breaks, we didn’t either, working almost the entire time. I kind of felt like a migrant worker or laborer as it was continuous work, hour after hour. Put your head down and keep clipping those grape bunches and load them into the bins. It didn’t help that it was hotter than expected, near 90 degrees. We were sweaty and dirty. By the end of our harvesting time, we were beat. (And when we got home, we both napped).
The grapes we harvested today were Chardonnay grapes. These were particularly difficult to quickly remove as they grow in tight bunches close to the vine. Also, the grapes grow at the bottom of the vine. That meant getting down low, bending down or on our hands and knees to cut the grape bunches off the vine.
Afterwards we received our rewards. The owners prepared a home cooked lunch for the volunteers and the staff. Along with the good food, we tasted as much of the many wines they offered. The wines were very good, especially the reds. While we were eating we talked to the owner and the wine maker, learning more about wines and the process.
Finally, before leaving each of us was offered a complimentary bottle of wine of our choosing as a ‘Thank You’ for helping.
All in all, it was a good experience. We left with a greater appreciation of some of the hard work needed to make wines. Given the incentives they offered, we might repeat this experience. Hopefully on easier grapes, like the Syrah.
Updated 10/17/17: I did go back to harvest other grapes. On 9/8/17, I helped harvest Viognier grapes. On 9/18/17, I helped harvest Syrah grapes. Both were easier to pick than the Chardonnay grapes.
Updated 10/2/18: I did go back again to harvest grapes again this year. In September I helped harvest Viognier and Albarino grapes. In early October I helped harvest Cabernet Franc grapes.