We went looking for concord grapes near the lighthouse, and after some traipsing around we found bunches hanging high up on the vines, the deer must have eaten them or else some other picker got there before us, thankfully my long limbed picking companion could reach the very top bunches, if not for her my harvest would've been paltry. It was my second time this year picking grapes, the first time was in New Zealand in April, harvest time at our vineyard in Martinborough. Picking grapes on the vineyard is back breaking stuff, hunched over for hours on end, making sure that the tips of your fingers aren't part of the harvest, the snips (secateurs) are very sharp, but after a few hours I find I get into the 'picking zone' filling up the bins with those perfect bunches, glistening in the late autumn New Zealand sun.
We have 20 acres, it's small, we make Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. In 2003 we planted the vines on what used to be farmland, on the edge of an old river bed, and in 2006 our first vintage was produced. The most frequently asked question is 'how can you run a vineyard in New Zealand, from Montauk?' There's surprisingly quite a lot we can do; weather can be monitored constantly, we can check the level of the water pump daily, and of course there are many phone calls on a regular basis at strange hours. We couldn't have embarked on this adventure without the help of two very tenacious parents who should've been relaxing with their feet up watching the telly (there's no such thing as a retired farmer). Over the past 7 years they have endured all the trials and tribulations that come with managing a vineyard, their story is an epic one, in a Robert Redford, river kind of way.
A passion for New Zealand, Martinborough, food and wine led us down this Dry River road, if we knew then....what we know now, but oh, what a thrill to be sitting in a New York restaurant and to see a bottle of our wine on the table......if they only knew about the frosts, the rain, the bottles that went missing on bottling day, the sheep that got in the vineyard. When we do our 'tastings' in the stores that carry our wine, people really do want to know the story behind that bottle of wine, and so, for example, my father-in-law at age 83 still drives the tractor up and down the vines, and my mother-in-law single handedly moved tons of rocks (greywacke) to create a spectacular entrance to the vineyard. Our vineyard is a real family vineyard, each family member plays a role, we don't have a rep, we make the sales calls, it really does qualify as 'boutique', wait, somebody pass me the soapbox....I read this somewhere 'a boutique wine is a quality wine made in limited quantity, under 5,000 cases a year' (we produce 2,000 cases) ok you can take the soapbox away (for the moment). We are proud of our wine and we are deeply connected to the land where our grapes grow, we intend to stay small and intensely focused on quality not quantity.
Anyway back here in Montauk, my jam is delicious, I used a simple recipe of sugar and grapes and lemon juice, sorry, didn't measure anything, just did it by taste, and then put the mixture through a sieve, wow, what an extraordinary flavor, I get......mmmmm, candy, bubblegum, strawberry, mmmmmmm, musty, barnyard, ok that's enough.
Two harvests in one year, does seem a bit greedy doesn't it?