|By Chadsey's Cairns wines (left to right): 2011 Gewurtztraminer, 2010 Riesling,|
2011 Muscat, and 2011 Chenin Blanc
My friend, Robin, and I woke while the moon was up and stars were shining, and struck out on the 401 headed east. We were travelling to Prince Edward County to help with the grape harvest at By Chadsey's Cairns. It was *so early*. I grew up going to Prince Edward County regularly. My grandparents lived in Picton (just outside of it actually, on a large farm two properties down from the oft-beset Bergeron's exotic animal sanctuary). They still had a party-line on their phone; when you picked up, an operator would answer and direct your call. Mystifying. My dad raced motorcycles at Shannonville many weekends in the summer, so we'd spend a lot of summer time in Picton, and Christmases too. While I was growing up, there was no such thing as a wine scene in the County. If I were to guess, I'd say that the serious endeavor of making wine on a commercial scale is only 10 to 15 years old. In those ten years, an abundance of wine operations have sprung up. Many of them are quite small, but some are large enough to sell wine in the LCBO, and while some are not very good, others are quite delicious indeed. Chadsey's is a small operation, and does not sell wine in the LCBO. The wine they make is, however, really tasty. More on this later, I promise.
Robin and I watched the sun rise on our way out to help the good folks at Chadsey's bring in their last batch of grapes. The harvest is three weeks early for them this year. I had originally planned on going to pick later this month, but Richard, one of Chadsey's proprietors, sent me more and more urgent emails pushing the end-of-harvest forward. The summer was so hot and so dry that everything was riper earlier, and needed to come off the vine. In fact, this summer was so warm that Chadsey's got a fully ripe St. Laurent batch for the first time (as Richard called it, their 'heartbreak grape'). I'm looking forward to trying it in a couple of years.
|Frost along the road|
|Frost in Chadsey's yard, with grapevine|
balls in the morning sun
The first task for us was to finish picking the last rows of Chenin Blanc. For the second year ever, the Chenin Blanc and Riesling have been affected with Botrytis cinerea, or 'Noble Rot', so called because it shrivels the grapes by absorbing the water inside, and concentrating the sugars. This allows for the creation of sweeter wines, on a spectrum of off-dry to full blown dessert-style. With the Chenin, the Botrytis should allow for a really rich wine with just a touch of residual sugar.
|Chenin Blanc with a few Botrytized berries - they taste|
|A box of harvested Chenin|
|Robin cutting away sour rot from a bunch of Chenin|
|Field of Chenin Blanc at Chadsey's|
|Riesling bunch with some Botrytis|
and some sour rot
|Riesling bunch that is almost|
completely affected by Botrytis
Last year Chadsey's made their first off-dry Riesling with their Botrytized harvest. This is their second year with Botrytis, which is very exciting for them. Though the 2011 is not available to purchase yet, we were able to taste a little of it after picking, and it's lovely. I will make a special trip to pick some up next fall. In the grand tradition of off-dry Rieslings, the delicate sweetness was complemented by a zippiness that left the palate refreshed. I think this year's wine will be equally delicious. This was probably the third time that people had picked through the Riesling vines. Robin and I were finding only small bunches, many with advanced Botrytis.
|Me picking Riesling bunches|
off the vines
|Richard, pouring us samples|
Vida, co-proprietor of the vineyard, sorts through every basket of grapes *by hand* to ensure that no sour rot or unripe grapes get into the mix. I suppose that with allowing volunteers to help with the harvest there has to be a certain quality control mechanism, but watching Vida do this labour-intensive work made me really appreciate the care that goes into Chadsey's wines. It also made me think that we will never see them in the LCBO because they would be too expensive, after the cut that the LCBO would want to get, for people who think that Prince Edward County or Ontario generally cannot make a wine worth paying $35 for. I disagree, but that doesn't matter in the court of public opinion, where people like their $15 shiraz.
|Vita picking through Chenin Blanc|
|Grapes going through the destemmer, and out through the pump to the press outside.|
|Robin examines the fresh grape must. We caught drips and|
tasted it - very good, but it gave no indication of
what it might turn out to be later on. The suspense!
|Stainless steel drums for the whites|
|The view through the slots on the|
side of the press - green and purple
grape skins, the purple skins being
|A pumpkin in the barn at Chadsey's|
where we had our coffee and
lunch breaks. So festive!
|Robin and her Riesling|
Thanks also to Robin, you trooper, for getting up at 5:30 on a Saturday morning and hiking down to pick grapes with me. It was a lot of fun, and you were a great sport about the cold and hard work (I was very happy to hear you say that it wasn't as hard as harvesting blueberries!). Come visit soon and drink Chadsey's wine with me!