Friday, October 16, 2009

Hitching a Ride on the Grape Harvester

Just returned from a week long vacation in the New York Finger Lakes. If you enjoy wine, it's a must visit. There are over 120 wineries throughout the region, mostly sprinkled along the gentle shores of the lakes. I was fortunate to visit a friend with a lovely home on Seneca Lake this summer for a weekend, and knew it would make a perfect fall get-a-way.

I didn't visit many wineries on my first trip, but I did make a stop at Miles Wine Cellars on Seneca Lake. The winery is in a Greek Revival mansion with a lovely view of the lake, and a history of being haunted.

Due to the unusually cool spring and summer seasons, many of the grapes were still on the vines, the winemakers hoping for a little more time to ripen before harvesting. During the course of the week the temperatures were steadily dropping. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the harvest in action, but I wasn't really prepared for how close I was about to become to the process.

This shot is from approximately the same spot in the vineyards taken in late July.

The grapes were small and green in July.

And they were deeply purple colored with red coloring on the leaves in October.

We'd seen this contraption parked at the edge of the vineyard as we headed to the tasting room. We tasted some of the wineries signature wines, including a Pinot Noir, a Chardonnay/Cayuga blend aptly named 'Ghost', and 'Call Me a Cab", a juicy wine that would be perfect with pizza and pub fare. Included in the $2.50 tasting fee is wine glass that you may keep.

We could hear the machine running in the distance when we left, so we headed to the vineyard to catch a better look and take a few photos. We pulled the car off the side of the road and waited for the machine to get a little closer to the end of the row.

The driver, who turned out to be winery owner, Doug Miles, waved and motioned to us to come closer for a ride. Seriously?

At first we thought he was kidding, but as they dumped the grapes from the machine into waiting bins, we clearly heard "Want to go for a ride?" Despite the nippy temps and wind, who is going to turn down that one of a kind offer?

So up we climbed, onto this $314,000 piece of grape picking machinery. Each of the four wheels can be adjusted to accommodate the terrain of the row being harvested. It goes over the row of vines and vibrates the ripe grapes onto a conveyor belt that drops them into waiting bins on either side of the machine. It leaves the small, unripe grapes on the vines, and shoots any leaves it collects out the back into the field. (It doesn't pull off many leaves, an advantage over earlier machines). Each side hold one and half tons of grapes.

We went up one row and back another an filled the bins on either side. The machine goes about one mile an hour, and despite the vibrating mechanisms, it wasn't that jarring to ride on top. One of the conveyors was sticking a bit, so Doug's nephew rode in the back and helped it along when necessary.

We were literally sitting right in front of this bin as it filled with grapes. And fortunately not with the bunny that narrowly escaped our path. These are Cayuga grapes which go into the 'Ghost' wine. Roughly speaking, the yield from our two row run is about 135 cases of wine.

The filled bins were dumped into wooden crates and hauled away to be processed.

So our thanks to Doug Miles, for providing an unforgettable memory of our trip to Finger Lakes. I can't imagine spending the entire day with a knife, hand harvesting in the chilly weather until my fingers were numb. But Doug could, and he was pretty happy to be driving that fancy grape harvester instead.


  1. Looks like you had a great trip to Wine Country. Harvest is a fun time to visit especially if you can "hitch a ride"!


  2. Hi there!
    My name is Jane and I'm with Dwellable.
    I was looking for blogs about Finger Lakes to share on our site and I came across your post...If you're open to it, shoot me an email at jane(at)dwellable(dot)com.
    Hope to hear from you soon!


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