Grape picking for the Cannon River Winery in Sogn Valley is quite an educational experience, albeit a lovely one.
After a brief informative introduction to viticulture (that is what happens in the vineyard), and wine making, volunteers are escorted out to specific rows of vines from which they will pick with fork-like tools the juicy orbs.
As explained, the grapes are checked frequently and not picked until they are deemed "ready." Said John Maloney, vineyard owner, "You can make bad wine from good grapes but you cannot make good wine from bad grapes." Volunteers are encouraged to taste the grapes as they pick.
Though still considered a small "boutique" wine operation, the Cannon River Winery and vineyard is the largest in Minnesota with 9,000 vines planted on 20 acres, yielding nine grape varieties. Rows are labeled with the name of the grape each will produce, corresponding with the wine it will become.
Protective nets covering each row are removed, and harvesters line up an arm's stretch apart before the designated area. For about three hours, the length of each shift, volunteers pluck clusters from the heavy laden vines, letting them drop into plastic trays called lugs.
Each lug is filled with about 20 pounds of fruit and when full, exchanged for another. When harvesters have rendered their "section" fruitless, they hop-frog down the row to the next open section and repeat the process. By shift's end, all the vines have yielded their bounty and a locally catered lunch is served in the "barn."
Without sides, the 150 year old timber frame structure, moved to its present location from the nearby Wrolstad farm, is more of a pavilion with a spectacular view of the majestic Sogn Valley below. There are picnic tables and chairs, both under the roof and in the yard.
About 7,000 pounds of fruit are picked each shift and brought back to the Cannon River Winery where the grapes are crushed, pressed, and put into tanks. Once fermented, each gallon of wine fills four bottles of delightful Cannon River Winery wines.
It took three years for the first fruit to be produced on the vines planted 10 years ago. Family and friends picked the harvest for the next three years.
The vineyard has since been opened to the public for grape picking shifts during fall weekends due to requests for participation in the process. Shifts have grown larger due to the increased interest in grape picking.
"It inspires loyalty when people pick the grapes that make their favorite wine," stated the winery's marketing manager, Bergit Nerheim.
Depending upon the vintage, the process can take as little as two months and up to a year before the wine is ready to be bottled.
Now established, the vines should produce their delicious nectar for 40 years.