Community-Supported Grape Harvest

Photo by Sue Roundy

The sun warmed my back as the thermometer inched toward                   eighty last Saturday morning when I joined in at the harvest of Siegerrebe grapes at Lopez Island Vineyards.  I’ve been part of the crew many times over the past fifteen years or so, but this time I was especially noticing how this vineyard is part of our island’s local food story.  It’s among the twenty-five farms involved in BOUNTY – Lopez Island Farmers, Food, and Community, a project of the Lopez Community Land Trust (LCLT).  Read more about BOUNTY in my July post.

BOUNTY project manager Sue Roundy,  LCLT Assistant Director Rhea Miller, and BOUNTY participants Bruce Dunlop and Debbie Young of Lopez Island Farm, along with a couple dozen other folks, were on hand for the LIV harvest, too. Conversations swirled among the vines as locals and visitors clipped the salmon-colored clusters. Vitrologist (grape-grower), enologist (winemaker), and former LCLT board member, Brent Charnley, has been growing this German-bred varietal on Lopez since 1987. That’s when he and his partner, Maggie Nilan, collected cedar posts off the beach for stakes and sowed three acres of plants they had rooted and grown themselves.  “The only purchase we made was a small John Deere tractor and implements,”  Brent explains.
Bounty is the right word to apply to this year’s LIV harvest.  Brent went so far as to call it “historic,” with a record-breaking yield of 1000 – 1500 pounds of grapes per block (five rows), almost twice the usual production. Brent attributes the abundance to the maturity of the vines (they’re a couple years older than the LCLT!) and the warm summer that stayed dry long enough for the grapes to ripen to perfection.

It’s likely that Brent’s choice of land and farming practices has something to do with this year’s bounty, too. All those years ago, Brent recognized that the sparse and rocky soil would help reduce vine vigor and thus improve the fruit quality. The site’s southwest exposure and slope provides good air and water drainage.Perhaps most important is that the fields had been farmed without pesticides since they were first cleared over a hundred years earlier. Brent continues to follow pesticide-free farming and LIV is one of only four certified organic vineyards in the State.
The BOUNTY subtitle—Lopez Island Farmers, Food, and Community—also was in full evidence that day at the vineyard. Ever since the first planting, through the vineyard’s growth to six acres, Brent and Maggie have relied on the help of the Lopez community (and beyond) to bring in the grapes each fall.  A long list of visitors and locals looks forward to e-mails notifying them of the harvest dates.
Spending a few hours in the vineyard was a treat. Voices danced among the vines as people philosophized and clipped, commented on the state of the world and clipped, and caught up about work and families – and clipped. Mid-morning, Brent urged everyone to break for water or coffee, fruit, nuts, and home-baked zucchini bread.  Soon, everyone gathered clippers and buckets and returned to the vineyard, adding more grapes to the bins at the end of the rows.
Just before one o’clock, Maggie and Rhea filled a long table with spanakopita, green salad, roasted beets, and dolmas (made with Siegerrebe grape leaves).  Brent called everyone in from the vineyards, and as we clasped hands, he expressed thanks for the bounty of fruit, food, friendship, and good work.

It’s no surprise that lunch included wine, and this year, there was an added bonus. Brent set up a vertical tasting  (different vintages of the same wine type from the same winery)of LIV Siegerrebe, starting with a bottle from 2006. 

We noted some of the variations from one year to the next, but each vintage’s off-dry finish and flavor notes of grapefruit, litchi fruit, flowers, and spice complemented the harvest lunch.  When we polished off those bottles (well, there were quite a few thirsty pickers), Brent poured Dry Rosé and Sangiovese, just right with the apple crisp dessert.

(Tracey Cottingham photo)

“Growing grapes is an ancient human task,” Brent says.  

“Weather ultimately determines the size of harvest,
 but the labor of human hands can help nudge this event 
 in the right direction.”

Because of the high volume of grapes, Brent put out a call for volunteers the following two days, too; more folks appeared, clippers in hand. 

Our connection to our community is part of who Lopez Island Vineyards is,” Brent said in his e-mail invitation. “Your smiling faces and best wishes mean a lot to us.  The wine is looking like a real winner!”

Brent’s smiling face that day was a real winner, too. 

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