Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Grape Experience

August 27th
WindCrest Winery

Since visiting WunderRosa Winery, I have been interested in experiencing harvesting first-hand. My intention was to help out at WunderRosa, but as harvest season began to peak, I started to worry that I would miss out if I didn't jump on the next opportunity that arose.

Many vineyards reach out through social networking sites when they need extra help for harvesting. Dale at WindCrest advertised his need for help several days in advance, so I quickly volunteered. The last weekend of August must have been a busy one - as the week progressed a few other vineyards also reached out. On Friday, WunderRosa contacted me about helping, but since I had already agreed to help Dale, I politely declined, asking them to please keep my contact information for next year.

Typically, vineyards only get a few days' notice when the grapes become ready. This is because they need to monitor the fruits' Brix level, which is a measurement of the grapes' sugar development. When the Brix count reaches the desired level, the grapes need to be harvested quickly,

While I usually sleep in a bit on Saturdays, I woke up at 5:30 the day of the harvest. Instantly, I was taken back to the many summers my friend Tosha and I picked sweet corn. We woke up early and were in the fields before the sun was up. The mornings were usually foggy, and the field was wet with dew and dense with mosquitoes. In an attempt to wake up, we would sometimes hit each other with corn stalks, and chat away until my mom would yell "Less talking, more picking!"

Remembering my experiences in the cornfield, I put on jeans, an old T-shirt, and most importantly, a light waterproof jacket. Sure enough, as I drove to Raymond at 6:00 am, a heavy fog clouded the country, and I knew the field would be wet.

When I arrived at WindCrest, I filled out half a page of paperwork. Pickers could choose to be paid or volunteer - I chose to be a volunteer, because I mostly just wanted the experience. Each picker was given a group number, shears, and a bucket. After a short orientation, we split into our groups and began harvesting.

Once we filled a bucket, we'd take it to the guys on the four wheelers.

Although we had been instructed in the orientation to take our time, be efficient, and essentially pick everything, many of the paid pickers took off at a run to gather the easy bunches. The paid pickers were getting paid by the bucket, so they took off and grabbed all the easy clusters to fill their buckets faster.

As a volunteer, I took my time and cleaned up after those who ran ahead. The paid pickers may have picked double and triple what I picked, but I feel that the volunteers worked harder. There were a few paid pickers who followed directions, but for the most part the volunteers did the more difficult tasks. I spent most of my time inside the vines, harvesting grapes that were more difficult to get to.

 From beneath the vines.

After we had been picking for about half an hour, a rooster started crowing. At that moment, I decided I was going to have chicken for lunch - I was drenched in dew and tangled in vines before the rooster was even awake. As the morning progressed, I forgave the rooster for reminding me of my lack of sleep. It felt good to be back in the field.

Each time I was ready to dump a full bucket, I gave the WindCrest staff my group and number (mine was 2-13), so they could keep track of how many buckets we filled. The buckets had to be absolutely full, because that's how they kept track of the grape tonnage. I personally picked three and a half buckets, which amounts to about 70-75 pounds of grapes.

I did try a grape straight from the vine, and I definitely understand why Edelweiss is my favorite wine. The grapes are very sweet, much more so than any you can buy at the grocery store. I was so excited when I found out we would be picking edelweiss, and I wasn't disappointed.

Edelweiss, edelweiss...

Eighty-seven pickers helped with the edelweiss harvest that morning - there were hardly enough buckets to go around! Altogether, we picked a little more than 14,000 pounds of grapes.

That's more than an elephant weighs.

Because of the huge turnout, we were done by 11:00 am. I turned in my shears and bucket, peeled off my drenched jacket, and sat for a moment, feeling accomplished. I was able to chat with interesting people, learn new things, and gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the work that goes in to every bottle of wine.

It was a grape experience.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Full of Hot Air

August 13th
Nebraska Balloon and Wine Festival

My good friend Alysia came back from San Francisco for the summer for an internship, so we made it a point to stock up on girl time and to catch up. There was no better way to bond and beat the heat than to relax in her brother's pool and sip wine.

Alysia always seems to know about upcoming events, and thankfully she always invites me along to the ones that pique her interest. After spending a good portion of the summer listening to me talk about Nebraska wine, she knew that I would be interested in checking out the Nebraska Balloon and Wine Festival in Omaha.

We spent most of our Saturday walking around Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo, because the Balloon and Wine Festival didn't start until evening. Seven hours at the zoo wasn't enough time to see everything, but we were able to see the main attractions, including my favorites, the Lied Jungle and the Cat Complex. It was the last weekend of freedom before school started, so the zoo was pretty packed.

Every time I go to the zoo, I feel like I've been dropped into somebody's Zoo Tycoon creation. My zoos were always pretty awesome, but it's hard to compete with the reality of our own Henry Doorly Zoo. It's only missing dinosaurs.

After we had pretty much wore ourselves out at the zoo, we headed over to the Balloon and Wine Festival. There were several food vendors, business booths, and about a dozen different vineyards in attendance. Alysia made me feel like an actual wine connoisseur by listening to my suggestions about which wines to try, and I managed to sample a few new ones as well. At dusk, the balloons light and launch.

Unfortunately, we weren't able to stay for the hot air balloon launch, because Ribfest was going on back in Lincoln and we wanted to check out some BBQ-y goodness as well. The ribs were awesome, but next year I'll make sure to go to each event separately so I can get the full experience.

Nebraska Balloon and Wine Festival's Website

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Wild Colleens

Aug 10th
Stop #12: Deer Springs Winery

Back in May, when we first began our wine tour, Katherine and I had tried to make Deer Springs one of our first stops, because it is located right outside of Lincoln. We were disappointed to discover that they were closed, and resolved to try again another time.

On our second visit, Deer Springs Winery was not only open, it was packed. In a side building, several people were hard at work bottling wine. In the tasting room, there were several small groups of people enjoying wine and picnic baskets. A few groups took their picnics outside - it was a beautiful day out. I, however, didn't quite feel like becoming a picnic for the mosquitoes, so we enjoyed our tasting inside. We didn't get much time to talk to Jennifer, one of the owners, because she was busy pouring for her guests.

Deer Springs had attended the Wine Under the Pines event at Kimmel Orchard the day before, and I tried their Traminette because it was a wine I hadn't crossed before. The Traminette became an instant favorite, as well as several other wines including their Bianca, Wild Colleen, and Brianna. We loved the name Wild Colleen, which means "wild Irish girl" - although I'm a bit more Irish than Katherine, we're both wild about wine.

Katherine and I followed our usual routine, each picking different wines from the list and then sampling each other's. This is the best way to sample all the wines, instead of limiting ourselves to choosing only five or six.

This is also the best way to catch mono, according to my mom. But her advice never deterred my habit of sharing drinks in high school, and some things just don't change.

Wine is meant to be shared.

As we were doing our tastings, we debated whether or not we wanted to share a picnic basket. Our inner Yogi Bear won out, so we each bought a glass of wine after we'd finished our tastings and shared a basket. The basket included cheese from the UNL Dairy Store, locally made summer sausage, a baguette, and a few pieces of Baker's chocolate. The picnic basket was the perfect snack, and Deer Springs was the perfect end to our weekend.

Favorites: Traminette & Wild Colleen

Deer Springs Winery's Website