Saturday, October 27, 2012

Red Rooster's Annual Adopt-A-Row Harvest

It's time for my annual chance to play the teensiest role in the annual fall harvest.  The Red Rooster Adopt-A-Row Harvest Party is nigh and by most accounts, the 2012 vintage is going to be an all around great year for Okanagan wines.  Despite a particularly wet spring and a slow start to the summer, a favourable growing season eventually kicked in - and stayed.  Harvest reports have been good - one after another - and harvest has been under way for over a month.

With that in mind, when the dates for the Harvest Party were announced for the last weekend of October, I wondered whether there were actually going to be any grapes left to pick.  Lord knows, the grapes don't wait around for pre-arranged weekends to ripen.  They're ready when they're ready and you have to jump to it.

Luckily the grapes cooperated.  They were both ripe and waiting for us.

The weather, on the other hand, wasn't quite as favourable.  The last of all that glorious Fall sunshine had finally decided to give up the ghost.  Indian Summer had turned rather wet - even in the normally dry Okanagan - and snow was starting to hit lower elevations.  I was more than a little concerned about the drive up to the Okanagan, particularly since there'd been reports of snow in the mountain passes.  Being a boy from the Coast, my snow-driving experience has been limited in recent years - especially when my little sports car doesn't even have winter tires.  Boo was going to have to work through the weekend and wasn't able to come with, but we switched cars and put on his snow tires.  That'd help but, as fortune would have it, the roads stayed clear.  Some fog here, a bit of snow on the side there, but all thing considered, it was just another day on the highway.

Boo and I have been adoptive parents under the Adopt-A-Row program for some years now and I really look forward to the annual Spring Pruning and Fall Harvest Parties.  As such, I've written about the program on other occasions in this blog.  While each event is a little different in scope, they're also somewhat similar; so, I'll try not to repeat myself too much.

The primary concept is that interested wine lovers can "adopt" a row of Malbec vines in the vineyard adjacent to the winery tasting room.  In addition to an identifying plaque on your row, "adoptive parents" get a case of wine and other winery perks.  For me, the aforementioned Pruning and Harvest parties are the highlights.  During the Fall weekend, we parents get a first hand opportunity to pick grapes and learn about the process that follows.

Since Boo had to work during the weekend, Mr. D. took his place as my Plus-One and we managed to make it up to Penticton and the Naramata Bench just in time to take part in the winery's Friday night meet'n'greet.  Nibblies and a wide array of Red Rooster wines made for quite the tasty start to the weekend, but we knew that duty called in the morning.  So, we were good boys and made an early evening of it.

Everyone at the winery was hoping that the forecasted rain would hold off until we'd had time to pick all the grapes.  Let's just say that I was glad I'd brought along an extra layer of clothes, a hoody and a baseball cap.  The vineyard manager was quick to admit that they wouldn't normally pick the grapes in wet conditions like this, but they proceeded all the same as they didn't want to deprive us parents or our picking experience.

Lucky for us, our group actually got to harvest the Adopt-A-Row Malbec vines.  That's not always a given because of scheduling around those variable ripening dates.  I found Boo's and my row and Mr. D. and I set off to play farmboy.  Our row seemed particularly fecund to me this year.  If memory serves, the Malbec vines were planted almost 10 years ago and are old enough now that they're really starting to come into their own.  Picking the row still took no more than an hour.  Despite the poor start with the weather, it did stop raining and I'd have happily continued on.  There was some consolation in that warm coffee and copious wine awaited us inside the winery.

We had a little time to kill as we waited for another group of parents to return from picking a vineyard up the road.  So, with glass in hand, Mr. D. and I wandered around back to the crush pad and watched as some of the cellarhands tended to the tasks at hand.  The winery might be hosting 100 some odd "parents" but the crush had been going on through the night (and weeks beforehand) and there was plenty to do to get ready for the Malbec crush to come.

After a warming lunch of Mulligatawny soup, any interested parents were invited to see what happened to the grapes that had just been picked.  It's not that often that regular consumers get the chance to watch a crush under way - let alone actually draw the grapes out of the bin and into the crusher-destemmer.  I think many of the attendees were surprised that the first stage of the crush left so much of the grape in tact.  

We learned that the year's harvest had been so large and consistent for the last so many weeks that the winery had run out of fermentation tanks.  Despite having brought in some more tanks as last minute additions, they were still having to temporarily fill plastic bins with the crushed juice until they could clear out some of the tanks that were currently in use.  I hadn't seen that process previously and that provided for an incredibly up close and personal view of what the crushed juice looked like.  It also begged the ever-so-practical question, "So, what does the juice taste like at this stage - exactly?" A quick fill from the makeshift tank was a welcome introduction to just what our adoptive rows lead to.

And, I can confirm that it was eminently tasty.  The sweetness of the grape juice belies its eventually dry finish.  It will no doubt be a couple of years until we can taste the finished product.  By then, I rather hope to have reached bottle number 2001 on The List.  But, if I haven't, adding the 2012 Red Rooster Malbec seems like a no brainer.

As for us adoptive parents, our work day was done.  I dare say we only scratched the surface of all the work and dedication that goes into making a bottle of wine, but it was sure fun.  Now, we just had to kill a couple of hours (with some wine shopping - much to Boo's dismay) and put in our final effort of the weekend - a winemaker's dinner.

Yes, life can be tough.

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