story and photos by Derek Doeffinger
When I heard those words uttered by Jeff Harvey, the Ventosa Vineyards winemaker, I almost turned and ran. That same phrase was used during a childhood prank by my friend Yakky’s big brother.
But this was different. This time the smell was sure to be rare and refined. Jeff had just uncovered a bin of fermenting Pinot Noir grapes and, like a monk entering a Buddha shrine, he slowly bowed until his nose was an inch from the surface. Then he inhaled deeply.
He looked up and smiled, “You need to smell this. But don’t breathe in too long because there’s carbon dioxide coming out.” It smelled great. He stirred up the bin of crushed grapes and motioned for me to take another whiff. The effect was tripled, not overpowering but a flood of exotic fragrances swirling through my olfactory mazes. Although I’m only a casual wine drinker, I was now beginning to understand the fascination with wine subtleties.
From there we headed out to the vineyards to pick up the lugs (plastic boxes) filled with Tocai Friulano grapes. I reached out and grabbed a few grapes and crushed them in my mouth to feel the sweet, sun-warmed juices oozing out.
Across the Finger Lakes, the grape harvest is now in full swing. Although I visited only Ventosa Vineyards and Atwater Vineyards, at both I found a buzz of anticipation about the grape quality. Atwater’s Vineyard Manager, Chris King, and Winemaker George Nosis agreed that the quality of grapes was high. The summer heat and drought concentrated the sugars and inhibited fungal diseases common to wet weather; the few interpersed rain showers were just enough to nourish the vines.
Head out to one of the vineyard trails within the next week and you can watch the harvest in action. Hand picking grapes treats them gently and lets pickers choose only the best. But the real fun is watching a mechanical picker in action as its high frame surrounds the vines with shaking bars that knock off the grapes and shoots them into an 8-inch flexible hose that extends into a bin on an accompanying wagon.