Adventures in Food: Grape Harvesting

Posted on October 6, 2012 by

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I learned something recently.

I am really bad at harvesting grapes.

You’d think that, having grown up in a primarily agricultural area, I’d know how to harvest anything. Wrong. …I’m just going to blame it on the fact that there are very few vineyards in the American Midwest.

Kakheti is the wine-making capital of Georgia, but grapes aren’t the only produce. The region’s also famous for its peaches, pears, persimmons, and pomegranates. (There are other fruits too, of course, but I just can’t resist a good alliteration.)

One evening, my host sister informed me that the next morning, we were going to help our relatives harvest some of their grapes. So, at 7 a.m. the next day, we pulled on jeans and old sneakers, ran across the village to our relatives’ house, and hopped in the back of their truck alongside two big barrels and a pile of cardboard boxes for holding the grapes.  After turning off the paved road onto a muddy gravel path for a few kilometers (and bumping my head on the roof more than once), passing acres upon acres of fruit orchards, we finally arrived at the vineyard. My host cousin distributed buckets and knives among the six of us, and we each set off down a row, cutting all of the bunches of green grapes we could find. Somehow, my bucket was only half full when everyone else’s was nearly overflowing. (I learned later that I was cutting them the wrong way—you’re supposed to chop each stem with a downward motion, not cut upwards, like I was doing. That might be why I was so slow. Maybe.)

One of the things that continually surprises me about Georgia is how unbelievably quiet it is in some places. That morning, the only sounds were the rustling grape leaves, people tromping through the overgrown weeds between the rows, and the occasional yell across the vineyard. It was so refreshing, and also a bit disconcerting.

After about an hour of harvesting, we did our best to clean the mud off our shoes, and had a short break for hard-boiled eggs, bread, chicken, and cheese—a breakfast mini-supra! By that time, both of our big barrels were heaping with fresh green grapes. But, we weren’t finished! We climbed back in the truck and drove a few kilometers away to another vineyard. This time, we were picking grapes for eating, not for wine. This is where it got difficult for me. At first, I had no concept of what made a bunch of grapes ‘good’—but, after observing everyone else, I got a pretty good idea of the color (green, but ripening and turning darker) and shape a good bunch should be—it was a bit like going grocery shopping, actually. It took us 45 minutes or so to fill ten cardboard boxes and six buckets, and we returned home, covered in mud and grape juice, to a delicious meal of mtsvadi and—surprise!—fresh green grapes.

While it was interesting (and fun, actually!), I don’t see myself becoming a successful vineyard owner anytime soon. I’ll stick to my little herb garden. (…and maybe growing corn. I can handle corn.)

Tune in next time, when I continue talking about other Kakhetian fruits, and also winemaking!