Vineyards & Wineries

Don't worry, the grapes didn't get soggy

Meriruth Cohenour October 10, 2017

If I would have had no connection to agriculture growing up, I am sure I would have grown up to be a meteorologist. I love how weather works. I don’t always appreciate the hype, but I admit I am a complete sucker for the hours-long broadcasts of weather events that are common in the central Oklahoma media market. Did you know that most other geographical regions don’t usurp your favorite television shows for endless coverage of what may or may not become a burden to your commute, power source or supply of life necessities such as bread and milk? Do those people even respect Mother Nature? What do they even do when it clouds up in the spring – go about their business? Not me. Scientifically, and culturally I suppose, I am all about the possibly shocking and frequently entertaining Oklahoma weather. Which is why, showing up to an outdoor activity on a cloudy day without a raincoat was very out of character for me. The lapse in judgement to not even peek at the radar before I left my house was a strange blip in my constant weather vigilance. Of course, I paid a price for this error. Even though this turned out to be a soaked-to-the-bone event for me, it was a worthwhile Agritourism experience that I won’t soon forget.

This photo would be entitled "Sunrise On The Vineyard," however, that title just doesn't seem to fit this cloudy sky. You will just have to take my word for it that it was indeed dawn.

I pulled up to C&H Vineyard in Jones, Okla., just after daybreak on a mild but cloudy August morning. The roosters were performing their sworn duty to let everyone within earshot know the work day should be underway. No sooner had I said “Good Morning” to vineyard owners Cindy and Harley Duncan, than the cavalry arrived. Several eager friends and fellow vineyard owners pulled in with gloves and clippers in hand and grape bins in tow. Several remarks were made about the possibility of precipitation, but the consensus was to get the harvest underway and see how the day played out. Surely, the weather wouldn’t dare dampen the spirit of a lively group of friends here to reap the fruits of their labor.

Yep, they are as tasty as they look. The Duncan's encourage sampling during harvest, as an incentive, but also as a source of pride for a year's worth of hard work that culminates in a sweet, juicy bunch.

This harvest day was focused on the Chambourcin grape, the last fruit to ripen in the Duncan’s vineyard this year. This particular grape, a French-American hybrid, seems to get along well with the Oklahoma climate. These vines were certainly prolific this year and we had a big job ahead of us. My coworker Kaylee and I took a quick lesson on how to harvest the grapes, which were much less delicate than we expected. Armed with borrowed gloves and clippers and clean 5-gallon buckets, we took our place with the other harvesters and got to work.

Cindy showed us how to clip the stem and drop the bunch into the bucket. She noted that everything gets clipped, nothing goes to waste in the vineyard.

Easy conversation ensued as everyone methodically took blades to stem then dropped the bunches into the buckets one at a time. After a while, I asked the obvious but ignorant question regarding the potential to mechanically harvest grapes. The answer was, of course, yes, but that it would not be economically feasible in a vineyard this size, or in most of the vineyards in Oklahoma. As I clipped along, the thought of machines replacing my effort quickly slipped away. I found the picture of a clean vine in front of me immensely satisfying and wholly motivating to keep clipping.

The feeling of accomplishment snuck up on me after my first section of vine was cleared. The vines looked so thankful to have their burden lifted, you could almost hear them sigh as their time to rest had finally come.

The group, most of who had worked together before, quickly fell into a routine of clipping and filling, then transferring the full buckets to the awaiting bins.

When friends come together to accomplish a task, "work" is nowhere to be found.

These bins are headed to the winery!

Now, about that pesky weather… Several remarks were made about the oddity of working in August without the threat of heat stroke. Some even chuckled at the thought that we could clear the entire vineyard without even worrying about sunburn. We were through about two rows before we heard a gentle roll of thunder. Still, the group continued on, determined not to doddle, but seemingly unconcerned as if the storm would not impede our progress just from the sheer power of our thoughts in willing it to go away. The first few drops were easy to deny. The sky was gracious enough to give us a few minutes to adjust to the thought before it sent the rain in earnest. To be fair, I was offered a poncho. But, by the time we all admitted this was not a passing shower, I was soaked enough to deem a time for covering up long past.

Obviously, they checked the radar before leaving the house.

To be quite honest, the oddity of a cool rain in August was refreshing enough to make up for any discomfort. The rain seemed to calm the roosters too, who seemed to believe it was their job to keep us motivated with their extremely frequent serenades. So, keeping time with the slightly-harder-than-gentle rain, we clipped on for a while. Soon, consultation of the radar cued a decision to suspend harvest for the day. As someone who is particular leery of lightning, I did not object, even though I was not ready for my vineyard experience to end.   

The number of Oklahoma vineyards might surprise you! Harvest usually begins in late summer and can vary greatly by location, variety of grape and weather conditions. Many vineyards have social media pages or e-mail lists that announce harvest activities each year as well as where to find wine and other products made from their fruit. Check them out on the Oklahoma Agritourism web site. Also check out the Oklahoma Wine Trails to find your winter wine adventure.

Kaylee followed these grapes to the winery! Check back for her story soon!

Meriruth Cohenour

Meriruth is the lead Agritourism Coordinator at the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. A constant desire to explore Oklahoma and a passion for agriculture advocacy fuels her desire to bring readers entertaining and informative posts each week.