Tuesday, Sept. 10th - Warm days and cool nights have shouldered the 24-hour summer heat out of the coming fall season and those in the business of planting and harvesting are turning a keen eye to the finish line. Farmers whisper in guarded chummy circles about the missed growth of hay. And they grumble with concern regarding the slow start, mature growth and development of cash crops.
On the opposite side of this year’s growing season, local viticulturists, those who specialize in the cultivation and harvesting of grapes, the current season is moving into its last few weeks in fabulous fashion.
"Like getting a kiss from Mother Nature . . . "
According to grape farmers Norene and Marc Gervais at South Dundas’ StoneCrop Acres, the growing season started perfectly and followed through with a great summer. To chat with Norene and Marc regarding the upcoming grape harvest, these vignerons describe a near romantic fling with nature, akin to a love-story in which they produce their 2019 selection of red and white wines. And a flush-cheeked rosé. They love what they do . . .
“We have a silly little bet going,” a smiling Marc says of the upcoming harvest, winking into her watchful direction. “I believe we will take in 12,000 pounds of grapes this year and Norene has marked her estimate at 10,000 pounds.” He doesn't say what the winners take is.
Historically, StoneCrop Acres has topped out at 8,000 pounds of production quality grapes. This particular year though is being described as “a near perfect season for grape growing.”
Marc’s estimate, a 150 per cent increase over previous years, is not outlandish by any means. Walking between the long rows of healthy vines with their over-sized, spotty-green leaves, the thick and weighty clusters of deep blue and purple grapes stimulate a wine-lover’s imagination, visualizing rustic dinner tables laden with fall’s bounty and wines, surrounded by noisy family and hungry patrons. The annual ritual of initiating wine production does indeed plant the seeds of a long term romantic adventure.
“There are two reasons why the grapes are heavy and fat this season,” points out Marc, adding, “First, we now have the entire vineyard producing grapes.”
StoneCrop Acres is celebrating it’s 12th birthday (since planting) and that means every one of the 5400 vines are quietly working away through the growing season.
“The second reason is that we didn’t have a frost this past year and that means the primary vine buds, those that produce the best grapes the vines are capable of producing, all lived!” adds Norene excitedly, “And because our goal is to grow and produce great grapes and beautiful wines, it makes this year very special.”
“Our vineyard is planted with North American root stock and produces North American hybrid grapes,” Marc points out, adding, “These robust roots are deep in the ground and do not suffer a lack of water nearly as much as agricultural crops might.”
Striding through the vineyard with a refractometer in her hand, Norene is measuring sugar levels in several varieties of grapes. From clusters she chooses a fat grape here and there, slowly squeezes, forcing a juicy drop to plop onto the refractometer's sensor plate and she measures the sugar content.
“We’re looking forward to several sunny days in the next two weeks and harvest will be one,” Gervais says with a broad smile.
“That’s a 14,” she announces peering into the refractometer.
“We need them closer to a 20,” she points out, explaining the ins and outs of the sugar versus acid content in the grapes.
In truth, the ripeness of a grape is not only measured by the factual numbers of its content. Ripeness also depends on the style of wine that particular grape is destined to produce, and just as importantly, what flavors that particular winemaker has in their personal profile.
All of these factors make up the complexity of grape ripeness. As the grape’s sugar increases and the acid levels fall a balance between sugar and acids will determine the quality of the wine produced. Including the alcohol content, so says 'Madame' Gervais.
For the Gervais, the anticipation is near overwhelming. We walk to the far end of the vineyard where the white wine-producing grapes are dripping with the morning dew. The clear water drops reflecting a sun-lit backed sharpness as the dew slowly rolls down the beautifully round, mystic colored green grapes. These grapes are destined to be pressed and eventually will fill a bottle, the contents intended to be a perfect accompaniment on dinner tables in a year or two.
The current season’s release of a Frigio-Rielsing, a Frontenac Gris and an unbelievably popular rosé, marketed as 2018 Gregarious Rose EH, has been marked a vineyard success say the owners. The all new SCA #5 limited edition red blend (5 grapes including Frontenac Noir, Marquette, Sabrevois, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon) from the 2016 crop has impressed a number of the vineyards top customers.
“We’re excited to introduce two more red varieties this fall,” says Norene, “We have a Marquette Merlot blend and a Frontenac noir Cabernet Sauvignon that are rounding out beautifully.” she admits, with a coy smile, that she has just left the sampling room.
“Our most exciting announcement,” she’s thrilled, “We’re going to produce a 2019 Louise Swenson and a 2019 Sabrevois Nouveau.” The 2017 Louise Swenson, once sampled, disappeared by the case immediately on release two years ago and the vineyard did not produce enough grapes for a second season pressing.
StoneCrop Acres is hosting fall hours through September. Those include Friday, 2:00 p.m. thru 7:00 p.m. and 11:00 a.m. thru 6:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. They are also hosting four more shows in their “Concerts at the Winery? season all of which can be viewed on their facebook page.
The local winery has hosted a number of wedding receptions this year, numerous private gatherings and business receptions, and a number of fundraisers and promotional events. The Gervais have invited and encouraged local operators to take part and to promote the greater business area, the municipality as a destination and each of their own operations in turn. And they are winning.
Stay tuned for the Christmas announcements . . .