There was a joyful tweet that went out from one of the Prince Edward County wineries in early August. “Veraison has started!”
Veraison is that time of the year when the grapes start to ripen and change colour . The clusters are quite beautiful as they don’t all ripen at once. A cluster can have all possible shades between green to deep purple.
It’s also the sign to the viticulturalist or vineyard manager to get the pruning started. Although they could let the vines carry as many grapes as they can grow, the juice would be thin; however, if the grapes are pruned back to the best bunches, it forces the plant to give the grapes all its attention and the flavours will be more intense.
The pruned off grapes however don’t need to be wasted they can be turned into Verjus, an unfermented grape juice that is a mix of pressed ripe and unripe grapes that can be used in cooking or is great in martinis or salad dressing.
To help with the pruning Closson Chase Vineyards sent an invitation to members of its wine club to come for a Verjus event. I was one of a crowd of guests who turned up in our work clothes with clippers in hand at 9:00 am on a Saturday morning to enjjoy coffee and fresh-baked local doughnuts. After getting acquainted, we walked over to the vineyard and were divided among six rows with crates to fill.
Our instructions were to clip any very low bunches of grapes that were hanging below the fruiting line and clip off the bunches on any vine that had less than five bunches of grapes.
I must confess that while that sounded fine back at the winery, it was somewhat confusing in the field. Vines tend to have a lot of branches and we couldn’t determine whether the ‘less than five bunches’ meant on the entire vine or just the vine branch. I played it safe and only clipped the low hanging ones which were an inch off the dirt.
Of course they fell in the dirt the minute they were clipped. Again a bit of confusion, should we put them in the crate if they’d fallen in the dirt or discard them? I rationalized that surely they wash them off at the winery and I chucked them in the crate.
When the six crates were filled we headed back to the winery and were served their 2010 pinot noir rosé. Sadly, this is the last year they will be producing a rosé as they are saving their Pinot Noir for greater things. Then we were called to the crush pad where they were loading our grapes into the bladder press. They had not been washed! I had to tell them.
“Wait!” I confessed, “My grapes fell in the dirt!”
“Dirt’s good.” said winemaker Deborah Paskus and kept packing them in.
Dirt apparently is heavy and so it sinks to the bottom taking down other unwelcome things with it.
As the bladder in the bladder press expanded, something like blowing up a beach ball, the grapes were squeezed against the side of the press and the juice poured into a trough with a slightly raised spout at its base. Little drifts of dirt had formed in the bottom of the trough.
The first glass of Verjus was poured off and handed round for people to taste. It tasted surprisingly good like red grapefruit juice. That was the juice from the ripest fruit. As it pressed harder, the green grapes were squashed and the second tasting of verjus was more sour like white grapefruit.
We went back to the bar to try the newly released Chardonnay and Chef John Taylor of Domus Cafe of Ottawa had prepared a fantastic al fresco lunch of barbecued lamb and pork, gravlox and cantaloupe, assorted salads, heritage tomatoes, peach chutney and other delights washed down with more Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
It was finished off with peach cobbler, crême anglaise and shortbread cookies for dessert.
Certainly we were overpaid for the amount of work we put in, but for the people who were there it was a chance to reaffirm their commitment and love of Closson Chase wines and feel part of an elite group of wine drinkers.
We all received a bottle of Verjus in time for Christmas to keep the memory of a summer day in the vineyard alive and share it with friends over verjus martinis.
My bottle looked decidedly cloudy. I ran it through a coffee filter.
The first version of this blog was written for examiner.com on August 27,2012 Veraison and Verjus