Fall fun: Go grape picking for Wisconsin wine
Parallel 44 Vineyard and Winery in Kewaunee County is in the middle of its annual harvest of 8,000 grape vines.
Julie Bauer couldn’t guess where her husband Peter Warpinski was taking her on a recent autumn day.
The steely blue sky was perfect for apple picking. The chilly air was ideal for a day at the pumpkin patch.
This day, however, was spent harvesting grapes on a Wisconsin vineyard.
“This is like a whole world out here that I never knew existed until today,” Warpinski said.
The Madison couple was among at least 45 volunteers on the last day of the harvest for the 2017 vintage at Parallel 44 Vineyard & Winery in Kewaunee.
The winery owners have called upon volunteers to help pick grapes on their 10-acre vineyard since it first opened in 2007. Steve Johnson, owner and winemaker, said some volunteers return every year to help harvest. He said this year had a record-breaking number of volunteers.
“I do appreciate the labor,” Johnson said. “But it also does build a bond.”
Volunteers aren’t expected to do back-breaking work. People chatted about their families or about Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone. It’s a relaxing event with rewards of complimentary lunch and wine when the day is done.
Parallel 44 doesn’t use mechanical harvesters. Grape clusters are hand-picked. A platoon of people descend into rows of vines armed with a “grape fork,” a pronged blade that slices the grape cluster off the vine. Grape clusters can be as big as a bunch of table grapes or a few berries on a shoot. The clusters are collected in a plastic box called a “lug” and are hauled off to the wine-making room.
‘You don’t make wine, you grow wine’
For the final harvest day, volunteers picked a white varietal called St. Pepin. The St. Pepin grapes are used to make Blue Moon, a semi-dry white wine. Parallel 44 planted its St. Pepin vines in 2006.
This summer’s cool weather didn’t do Johnson any favors. Like any other crop, weather affects the grape harvest, and Mother Nature determines what will happen to a vintage. Grapes need hot weather to ripen and increase sugar levels. If the grapes are harvested too early, the wine will be too acidic.
This year’s harvest was delayed by about two weeks to give the grapes extra “hang time” to reach optimal sweetness.
“As I said before, you really don’t make wine, you grow wine,” Johnson said.
The extra hang time could give the 2017 vintage different expressions than past vintages. Johnson predicts the wine could be sweeter, with notes of tropical fruit like pineapple or papaya instead of citrusy notes if it were picked earlier.
“The general notion that most winemakers have is the longer the grape can hang on the vine before picked, the more interesting the wine can be.”