By Iris Graville
The sun warmed our backs as the thermometer inched toward eighty last Saturday morning. Bounty project manager Sue Roundy, Lopez Community Land Trust (LCLT) Assistant Director Rhea Miller, Bounty participants Bruce Dunlop and Debbie Young of Lopez Island Farm, and I joined a couple dozen other folks to harvest Siegerrebe grapes at Lopez Island Vineyards (LIV—another farm involved in the Bounty project). Conversations swirled among the vines as locals and visitors clipped the salmon-colored clusters. Vitrologist (grape-grower), enologist (winemaker), and former LCLT board member Brent Charnley has been growing this German-bred varietal on Lopez since 1987.
Bounty is the right word to apply to this year’s LIV harvest. Brent went so far as to call it “historic,” with a record-breaking yield of 1000 – 1500 pounds of grapes per block (five rows), almost twice the usual production. Brent attributes the abundance to the maturity of the vines (they’re a couple years older than the LCLT!) and the warm
summer that stayed dry long enough for the grapes to ripen to perfection.
The Bounty subtitle—Lopez Island Farmers, Food, and Community—also was in full swing that day at the vineyard. Ever since Brent, his partner Maggie, and a group of their friends planted those first three acres of Siegerrebe (they now have six acres in grapes and are one of only four certified organic vineyards in the State) they’ve relied on the help of the Lopez community (and beyond) to bring in the grapes each fall. A long list of visitors and locals looks forward to e-mails notifying them of the harvest dates.
Spending a few hours in the vineyard was a treat. Voices danced among the vines as people philosophized and clipped, commented on the state of the world and clipped, and caught up about work and families. Mid-morning, Brent urged everyone to break for water or coffee, fruit, nuts, and home-baked zucchini bread. Soon, everyone gathered clippers and buckets and returned to the vineyard, adding more grapes to the bins at the end of the rows.
Just before one o’clock, Maggie and Rhea filled a long table with spanakopita, green salad, roasted beets, and dolmas (made with Siegerrebe grape leaves). Brent called everyone in from the vineyards, and as we clasped hands, he expressed thanks for the bounty of fruit, food, friendship, and good work.
It’s no surprise that lunch included wine, and this year, there was an added bonus. Brent set up a vertical tasting (different vintages of the same wine type from the same winery) of LIV Siegerrebe, starting with a bottle from 2006.
We noted some of the differences from one year to the next, but each vintage’s off-dry finish and flavor notes of grapefruit, litchi fruit, flowers, and spice complemented the harvest lunch. When we polished off those bottles (well, there were quite a few thirsty pickers), Brent poured Dry Rosé and Sangiovese, just right with the apple crisp dessert.
Because of the high volume of grapes, Brent put out a call for volunteers the following two days, too; more folks appeared, clippers in hand. “Our connection to our community is part of who Lopez Island Vineyards is,” Brent said. “Your smiling faces and best wishes mean a lot to us. The wine is looking like a real winner!”
“Growing grapes is an ancient human task,” Brent says. “Weather ultimately determines the size of harvest, but the labor of human hands can help nudge this event in the right direction.”