Saturday, October 01, 2005

Vendemmia, New Mexico Style

It has long been our desire to participate in a grape harvest in Italy. I'm not really sure why, but we have had romantic visions of a vendemmia...out in the beautiful countryside, enjoying the sunshine and camaraderie, cheerfully chatting while harvesting the bounty and seeing the grapes getting crushed, destined to become wine. And, of course, the feast that always follows such activities spread out on long tables under large trees in the sun-dappled garden.

It was with these visions dancing in my head that I immediately volunteered our labor when a friend from Italian class mentioned they would be harvesting their grapes right here in Corrales. Bryan was, thankfully, thrilled to have the experience, too. I say thankfully because I'd committed his time and energy without asking him first. I knew I'd need him to pick up any slack when I started to lag and to carry my full buckets of heavy grapes for me. We reciprocate in this manner...I envisioning the dreams or projects, he carrying out the brunt of the work on them.

We arrived promptly at 9:00 a.m. to find a small vineyard with about 14 rows of grapes. Ah, this will be done in no time, I thought to myself. We wore the recommended "migrant worker attire", Bryan looking quite dashingly local in his straw gardening hat, which I call his "Corrales hat" because the farmers hereabouts wear them in their fields; me in long sleeves and old pants; my old shoes which quickly became mud-caked. The recent rains were not so great for the grapes, we were told. At least the ground wasn't spongy or slippery with mud, just soft. There were about six others assembled receiving lessons on how to use the grape-picker-thingy. In my innocence I thought we'd use clippers, but were handed orange-handled blades which resembled mini-scimitars with serrated edges inside. I quickly realized these were more productive than clippers ever could be. More people wandered in and out, some helping in the house, some picking awhile and then needing to depart. One wiley couple showed up only for the last few, easier rows of grapes and we envied them greatly. They had obviously done this before.
(Gail peeking through vines; Bryan in his Corrales hat)

We began to slice at the Riesling grapes first. I can assure you that, after spending two hours harvesting these very juicy grapes, should I ever plant a vineyard I will not, ever, plant Riesling. They are the wicked, ill-behaved stepchildren. They gnarl up and grow almost upwards, turning back onto themselves, vining and winding around almost for dear life, making the harvest very difficult. It was with true relief when we were able to dump the last of the Riesling grapes into the truck for transport to the winery, and move on to the rows of Vidal. These were well-mannered grapes, growing like they should in heavy clumps hanging obligingly downward just waiting to be easily sliced from the vine. Joyfully we made quick work of the four rows of Vidal and begged our hosts to plant more of these gracious grapes in the future. The entire harvest was carried out, as I had imagined, with camaraderie, commiserating over the difficulties and travails of the stubborn Riesling clumps, chit-chatting across and through the vines as we worked. The day was sunny and warm, not a cloud in the bright almost-turquoise sky. Hats bobbed up and down among the rows as we talked and sliced at the grapes.

When the final grapes were loaded for the last, short trip down the road to the winery, we grateful laborers lined up for the enchiladas, burritos, posole, guacamole and sangria that had been laid out, and we quickly laid waste to the beautiful buffet. Greedily we consumed the spread as if we hadn't had food in days. It was harder work than I'd imagined, and I was famished. We ate out under trees, but the New Mexico sun being as strong as it is, the sky being completely cloudless, we found ourselves quickly baking in the heat and inching our chairs backwards trying to retain shade as the sun moved. The hostess, not content to merely lay out enough delicious food to feed an army, had brought in a live musician to serenade us with guitar music while we munched and unwound. Now this girl knows how to reward her workers and throw a nice party.

It was, all in all, what my vision of a vendemmia should be, just without the medieval villages dotting the surrounding hillsides. In Corrales there are no hillsides. And enchiladas instead of pasta. This is, after all, the land of chile and posole. Muy bien!

copyright 2005 Valerie Schneider

1 comment: said...

What a nice article! I loved seeing the pictures too. We are friends of Gail's and she told us all about the grape harvesting.
We met Gail in Abruzzo last October and participated in a grape harvest there on a small farm. It was wonderful. Cindy