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The Agony of Dropping Fruit | Project Sunlight - A Winemaker's Education

The Agony of Dropping Fruit

July 26, 2011 | By | 6 Replies More

A cluster of grapes that will never be wine.

This is only a guess, albeit a somewhat educated guess, but I suspect every vineyard worker has the same uneasy, guilty feeling the first time he drops fruit from a vine. 

By dropping fruit, I mean walking through the vineyard, from one vine to the next, and cutting off perfectly good clusters of grapes and letting them fall to the ground.  It seems wasteful, and when you see a cluster of nearly perfect grapes lying on the ground next to your feet, you feel like a butcher.  But you have to remain focused and keep your eye on the prize.

“Think about the wine,” said Julien Durantie, the vineyard manager at DuCard VineyardsAh, yes, the wine.  Don’t worry about the grapes on the ground that will soon rot and return to the soil to nurture future crops.  Think ahead a year or more to the wine that will be made from the fruit that remains.

Bob “The Butcher” ruthlessly hacking fruit.

The idea behind dropping fruit is simple:  the vine has only so much energy, and by reducing the number of clusters, you end up with a more concentrated juice and much better, much more intense wine.  In a sense, this is a continuation of the process we’ve been engaged in throughout the growing season.  Early on, we thinned out the shoots, leaving behind a smaller number of shoots that we hoped would produce high-quality grapes.  As we moved through the season, pulling leaves to open up the canopy, we continued to remove suckers, laterals, and extra shoots that would deprive the vine of its vigor.

Removing suckers and thinning shoots was one thing.  Clipping off beautiful clusters of berries that were turning into wine grapes, was much harder.  I tried to keep my mind focused on the wine.

Another view of the carnage.

As was the case in many classes before, I found myself nearly paralyzed at the start, not quite remembering what I had been told, and staring at the vine, afraid to make the first cut.  And so, I spent time separating out vines that had become tangled, pulling some laterals (which look like a small, separate leaf system), and considering whether to cut this clump or the next one.  And finally, as always, I called Scott Eliff, the vineyard’s owner, or Julien, and begged for help.

We were working just at the onset of veraison, the time in which the berries change color.  Here and there, we spotted a few cab franc grapes turning purple, but the vines we actually worked on were Viognier, Virginia’s signature white grape.  (Actually, while the Virginia Wine Board has declared Viognier to be the Commonwealth’s Signature Grape, I prefer to think of it as the signature white.  Cab Franc and Petit Verdot are my choices for reds.

In Memorium: Honoring the fallen clusters.

In any event, a little bit of my heart lay on the ground with each cluster of grapes.  And I was only the hired (well, volunteer) help.  I can’t imagine how agonizing it is for the owner of the vineyard to drop fruit, knowing he or she is reducing the vineyard’s yield significantly with each clip of the pruning shears.

Fortunately, this is one kind of heartache that can be cured by opening and tasting a bottle of wine that has benefitted from the “Green Harvest” of dropping fruit.  Wine is often said to be made in the vineyard, and the best is made by vineyards like DuCard that are willing to sacrifice quantity for quality.

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Category: All Posts, Virginia Wineries, Viticulture

Comments (6)

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  1. Spring in the Vineyard | Project Sunlight – A Winemaker's Education | May 21, 2012
  1. Margaret says:

    Bob,
    You put perfectly into words how I felt cutting those first few perfect clusters off of the vines. It was so sad but did eventually get easier. As they say the proof is in the pudding or in this case the 2011 Viognier which I am sure will be excellent!

  2. Bob Garsson says:

    Margaret, we’ll have to get everyone together next year at DuCard to open a bottle of the Viognier and toast our work in the vineyard!

  3. Frank says:

    Bob – Great to connect, even if briefly, at WBC11. Ah, dropping fruit – can certainly be difficult, eh? Well, I guess, actually ‘seeing’ the fruit lay on the ground is the real difficult part. Nice piece on your time at DuCard. I really like what Scott and the team are doing there, and look forward to watching their progress.

    As the author of a soon to be released ebook on Virginia Viognier – I must say that I consider Viognier Virginia’s ‘only’ signature grape. Only room in this town for one of ’em, and Viognier is it! 🙂 Cheers!

  4. bestdecanter says:

    Every person has own taste and my favorite brand is grapes wine with red color. I use that wine because i feel comfortable in stress. It is most beneficial for the human stomach.

  5. decanter says:

    Thank you for the entertaining fly adventure … Thought it was just me :). Oh and I can’t wait to try this cobbler pie!!! Yummy!

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