Picking grapes at a winery
When I saw that Savage Oakes Vineyard and Winery (in Union, Maine) was looking for volunteers to help pick grapes during their 10th Annual Harvest Festival, it was a no-brainer that we would be there. Savage Oaks is part of Harvest Hosts, a program that allows RV’ers to stay overnight at wineries, farms, museums and other participating properties for a night. While it is customary to just stay one night at Harvest Hosts sites, I asked if we could stay two so we could help with the picking and enjoy the festival without having to dash out in the evening. They nicely obliged and we had a blast.
That is just another box of awesome experiences while RV’ing that we can now check.
Savage Oakes started in 2002 with a block of cold-hearty wine grape vines (as in down to minus 25 cold) and has been expanding ever since. The vineyard has grown to four acres representing ten grape varieties. This family-owned and operated winery produces 1,200 cases a year of 13 different wines. And wait, this working farm also produces beef, pigs, and blueberries.
We pulled in late afternoon and were warmly greeted by the co-owner and winemaker Elmer Savage and his black lab Quincy. After Elmer showed us where to park the rig, he invited us to take a walk back to the vineyard, see the herd of Belted Galloway cows, and enjoy the beautiful property set in the Maine countryside. Looking at grapes hanging on a vine is nice but tasting the fermented grapes in the bottle is even better. So off to the tasting room we went.
The adorable tasting room is inviting and a quick “hello” by Sandra (Elmer’s sister) makes you feel welcome. Sandra nicely explained the history of the farm, the grape varietals, and poured some wine. We had a great time, sincerely appreciated her time and hospitality, and walked back to the RV with three bottles of wine ready to watch the sunset over the autumn hillside.
Grape picking started at 9 a.m. After a quick lesson from Holly Oakes (Elmer’s wife and co-owner) we grabbed some clippers, a lug (the yellow container the grapes are placed in) and off we went to pick the Cayuga grapes that would soon turn into St. George’s White. Picking grapes was not terribly hard but making sure that you didn’t leave any grapes behind was difficult as some bunches tend to hide behind leaves and become intertwined between branches. And what better helper for picking grapes than Quincy the lab. He made sure we were doing our job and gladly ate any grapes that fell to the ground.
The day got even better when lunch and a case of wine was presented on the picnic table as a thank you for our work. As we ate and sipped wine, Elmer and Holly graciously chatted about pruning techniques, growing conditions, and wine making in Maine. After all, they are the largest wine producer in the state.
Back at the barn, it was time to start processing the picked grapes. If the image of Lucy and …stomping on them comes to mind you are not alone. But Elmer didn’t instruct us to take our shoes off, instead he passed the bunches through a slick machine that de-stems and crushes the grapes. Next, the crushed grapes got a little hand mixing and the grapes were ready for the press. The crushed grapes are pumped into a stainless steel drum that begins turning, tumbling, and eventually squeezes the grapes and discharges the liquid. We all got samples of the raw juice (which tasted pretty good to us) before moving into the vat where the juice will ferment on its way to becoming wine.
This experience was sooooo much fun. The field we parked in was perfectly quiet, had a beautiful view, and a great place for Spirit to run. Thanks so much to Holly, Elmer, Sandra, and Quincy for their hospitality. Can’t wait for the 11th Annual Harvest Festival.