Pickers harvest 20 acres at the Whitetail vineyard
On January 11 the temperature dipped and the rush was on. The goal? Harvesting more than 20 acres of ice wine crops in the middle of the night.
“We hand harvest as well as machine harvest,” explained Troy Osborne, director of vineyard operations for Constellation Brands, which services both Jackson Triggs and Inniskillin wineries.
“Definitely as far as production goes and getting people, a guy is more comfortable sitting in a heated cab tractor than he is sitting out there picking grapes. For the amount that we have to pick, we find that we have to use both practices.”
That night they picked just over 20 acres of the Whitetail vineyard, grapes that go primarily to Jackson Triggs.
“The later it goes, as you can imagine,” Osborne said, “the more dehydrated the berries are, and subsequently the colder temperatures you need to get adequate brix. We’re looking, I think legally, it’s about 34 brix, but we look for 40-41; that’s what makes the best wine, we find.”
For those unfamiliar with winemaking terms, “brix” is the sugar content found in a liquid solution. Once the grapes are harvested, the grapes are picked up, taken to the winery, weighed and processed.
“There are a few different types of presses that they use, but the most effective press is still the old style basket press,” Osborne explained, “simply because you can put a lot more pressure on it. It’s a lot different than pressing fresh fruit, because fresh fruit is easier to get the juice, whereas ice wine, you are pressing marbles, and all that’s coming out is the sugar,” Osborne noted.
“It’s a lot like when I was a kid, my mom used to make orange juice from concentrate; you get the little containers, I don’t know, they’re probably about a pint, and it’s just pure sugar when you taste it. That’s essentially what’s coming out when you press it. The sugar has a lower freezing temperature than water does and that’s how the whole thing works. Water freezes, the sugar doesn’t, the colder it is, the more concentrated it is.”
Overall, the harvest was a resounding success. “Any time you can get it off, it’s a success; we did very well,” Osborne stated. The longer you leave it on the vine, the less you get. It dehydrates, you get animals in there, it falls off the vine, these kinds of factors that come into play, so every month you are losing 20-25 per cent of the crop.”
Osborne said if they were picking fresh fruit, the Whitetail property would have yielded about 60-65 tonnes, “and we only picked about 30, so half of the crop was gone.”
Luckily the temperatures cooperated and we can all look forward to some fantastic ice wine – an award winning achievement for both Jackson-Triggs and Inniskillin wineries.