Picking at the peak of perfection

Harvest time is an enjoyable season. Last week I visited the Lavender Vineyard just south of Minnesota Highway 36 and behind the Post Office Distribution Center. It was grape picking time and Carol Palmquist had gathered a group to pick her grapes that included her granddaughter, Lilly Goulette.

Robin Partsch manages the Northern Vineyard Winery in Stillwater and co-manages the vineyard with Carol. The grapes had reached their proper sugar level and the winery had orders in hand for the crop. Robin purchases up to 125 tons of grapes from 15 area vineyards to supply the store and provide juice to other wineries.

For those that have not enjoyed picking grapes, each year the valley vineyards seek help in bringing in their crops. This year, the combination of a late frost and beetles had reduced the harvest. Just like many apple orchards, weather can be a deciding factor.

They were harvesting Edelweiss grapes and the output was slightly more than 500 pounds compared to 4,500 pounds last season. The darker Frontenac grapes and the green Louise grapes will be harvested when they ripen later. It only took a couple hours for about 10 of us to bring in the crop. It takes 2.5 pounds of grapes to yield a bottle of wine.

Robin told me that former Star Prairie, Wis., resident Elmer Swenson developed many of the area’s grapes. He used his grandfather’s book on cross-pollination to develop grapes that could survive in our area. Out of thousands of tries, Swenson developed about 25 named grapevines that were both disease- and drought-resistant for our area.

The Edelweiss was one of them, which Northern Vineyard is featuring this year at the Minnesota Wine Growers booth at the State Fair. This wine comes from the grapes harvested at the Lavender Vineyard. Edelweiss grapes from other vineyards are bottled into the Oktoberfest labeled wine.

The other green grape grown here is used in the Louise wine, a drier white wine. That bottle is named after Elmer Swenson’s wife Louise. The Frontenac grapes, developed by the University of Minnesota, are used in several of the red wine blends.

So, when you drive by a vineyard or look at a bottle of wine, remember, the grapes are picked by hand. Try one of the local varieties. They are very good.

Text and photos by David Fabio