By Julia Burke, Niagara Escarpment Correspondent

Lenn_finharv09BanB Now that the 2009 harvest is finally drawing to a close, I can power-wash my hiking boots, B-Brite the wine stains on my shirts, scrape the grape residue out from underneath my fingernails, and get ready to do it all over again as an intern in South Africa in two months (assuming all goes well with the infinite bureaucracy of the visa system). Compared to my fellow correspondents, I’m quite new to the wine industry and unqualified to analyze the technical nuances of this vintage. However, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned from my very first harvest; I’m certain that, as with most great things in life, everyone remembers their first time:

  • If you hate Frontenac, you’ll hate it even more when you start punching it down and it explodes in your face. Especially if it’s for someone else’s winery. Especially if you have a date right afterwards.
  • Every job, even in the wine industry, has moments of frustration, boredom and doubt. But not every job offers the satisfaction of taking a break from picking, standing in the middle of the vineyard, and shoving a gorgeous, mouthwatering cluster of ripe (yes, ripe!) grapes in your mouth.
  • It’s fun to make whites, but reds are just downright sexy. Hand-pressing my own eight gallons of Cabernet Franc with juice dripping down my arms turned a bad day into a great one.
  • Yellow jackets “bleed” yellow when you cut them in half with clippers. Who knew?
  • I thought eating grapes while picking was something I should limit (flashbacks resurfaced of picking blueberries as a kid and being scolded for eating them before they hit the bucket). But when you’re sorting in the vineyard and at the winery, tasting everything is the best way to figure out what to keep – I learned that there’s a direct correlation between the nicest-looking, sweetest totes of grapes and the people who weren’t all that hungry at lunchtime.
  • If they made a botrytis smoothie, it would look disgusting, but I’d drink it. That said: it’s not a good idea to bank on botrytis showing up in your vineyard and delaying picking accordingly.
  • The best way to make great wine: start with great fruit, and don’t #@%& it up.
  • Even within a small region like Niagara, soil, weather and other factors result in incredible diversity of harvest experience. A tough year like 2009 truly brings out individual personalities and winemaking styles; from now on I’ll be seeking out wines from less-than-perfect vintages more often, and paying more attention when comparing them.
  • It really does take a lot of beer to make wine. Sure, my back, legs, and hands were sore, but nothing on my body hurt as much in October as my beer-soaked liver.
  • It would be fun, I’m sure, to work for a large, well-established winery. But for my first harvest, I can’t think of a better experience than working for a small one. With no winemaking background whatsoever, I got to help pick, sort, crush, press, and rack, while making my own wine on the side. And when I pour our 2009 wines for customers in the tasting room over the next few years, I’ll remember how chilly it was when we picked cab sauv and how gloriously sunny when we picked cab franc, how the riesling juice tasted in the reservoir of the crusher, the wonderful smell of pinot noir being poured into oak barrels, and climbing up on top of two stacked palettes of bottled wine to do punchdowns while wearing high heels.