Harvests are a celebration of hard work

September 11, 2016 | Fort Erie Times 
by Craig Youdale

The harvest season anywhere in the world is a celebration of hard work, and it has the smell of victory in the human’s battle with nature.

 The “bringing in” of a crop can mean many things, such as food for the table, sustenance for the village, and even financial comfort for the farmer when the bounty is plentiful.

The grape farmer is probably one of the most nervous, overworked wrecks at this time of year, when it’s time for the fruit to be picked.

The grape is such a delicate beast, and it can change its fortune in a blink of an eye. An entire season of warmth, sun and proper moisture can be dashed with severe winds, sudden cold, and a constant flow of rain from the heavens when it’s time to pick.

photo by Denis Cahill

The two key elements in the grape at this time of year are sugar and acid. The winemaker and vineyard manager watch and analyze their crops with minute precision to pick at the best possible time.

Each grape will have an optimum combination, and that literally changes daily as acids tend to drop and sugars grow high.

If that is not complicated enough, then keep in mind that each winemaker will have different ideas as to the perfect sugar level or the right amount of acid to produce the wine they are hoping for.

Grapes are not produced equally, and each has a different schedule as to when it’s “right for the pickin’.”

At this point in time, high acid -level in grapes ,such as Pinot and young Chardonnay, are coming off the vine that are suited for sparkling, while lighter reds and aromatic whites are close behind.

The full bodied whites, as well as the bigger reds, are still hanging in there and waiting their turn, and, believe me, it’s the grape that decides the picking time, not the winemaker.

Each year I get into the vineyard with my wine and viticulture technician students at Niagara College and watch the first step in their journey toward becoming winemakers. The idea is to get them into the vineyard on their first day because every great wine starts in the soil and on the vine.

The next time you open that favourite bottle of wine, consider the work and passion that not only went into the winemaking but also the farmers who tended those rows with loving care and brought their crop to harvest time to have the best possible product go to the cellar.

Technology and knowledge aside, it’s nature that holds the key to great wine. So please, I implore you to go out and hug a farmer today because, at this time of year, they need it.

Craig Youdale has been in the food and beverage industry for three decades as a chef, restauranteur, professor, international competitor and now dean of the Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College. His passion for all things food and wine has led him to Niagara to lead the institute to become the world’s foremost educator in fermentation sciences and culinary arts.