Grapes are a labor of love, patience and luck.

Yet, there are few things as satisfying in life as harvesting the fruits of your labor. And when you’re a winemaker growing grapes, that’s doubly true.

When most people in Michiana are still drinking hot chocolate, snuggling up under the covers, and avoiding gray skies and howling wind, winemakers are out in the vineyard trimming and training.

Joe Kuharic Jr. carefully asses the right place to trim a bunch of Concord grapes on Sept. 20, 2016. Kuharic is the father of Flavor 574 Editor Joe Kuharic. (Flavor 574 photo/Joe Kuharic)
Joe Kuharic Jr. carefully asses the right place to trim a bunch of Concord grapes on Sept. 20, 2016. Kuharic is the father of Flavor 574 Editor Joe Kuharic. (Flavor 574 photo/Joe Kuharic)

Winter pruning is crucial to making sure a grapevine grows properly and makes the most fruit it can when September arrives; you’re building the framework for a year’s worth of work.

All of spring, summer and fall is a battle against Mother Nature. Insects, diseases, too much rain, too little rain, too much heat and too many clouds, all conspire against the hardworking winemaker.

If you make it that far, you’ve still gotta make wine.

Joe Kuharic Jr. hold a bunch of freshly harvested Concord grapes and a pruner on Sept. 20, 2016. Kuharic is the father of Flavor 574 Editor Joe Kuharic. (Flavor 574 photo/Joe Kuharic)
Joe Kuharic Jr. holds a bunch of freshly harvested Concord grapes and a pruner on Sept. 20, 2016. Kuharic is the father of Flavor 574 Editor Joe Kuharic. (Flavor 574 photo/Joe Kuharic)

Fortunately, us folks along Lake Michigan have a bit of an easier time managing because we have a — mostly — cooperative climate. You never know what the year will bring, but putting trust in Mother Nature to provide is part of the fun.

We’re now on the tail end of grape harvest season in Michiana, and luck has favored us so far.

I spent some time with my folks a few weeks back and helped harvest some of the remaining grapes we were growing. A family friend, John Dzierla, wanted to make some jam and jelly out of our remaining Concord grapes, and naturally my parents were happy to oblige.

Joe Kuharic Jr. (right) goofs with friend John Dzierla after picking 10 gallons of Concord grapes to turn into jam on Sept. 20, 2016. (Flavor 574 photo/Joe Kuharic)
Joe Kuharic Jr. (right) goofs with his friend, John Dzierla, after picking 10 gallons of Concord grapes to turn into jam on Sept. 20, 2016. (Flavor 574 photo/Joe Kuharic)

Picking grapes is a methodical process: seven months of care goes into growing the perfect bunch, and mishandling or an errant snip can ruin an entire bunch.

I watched as my parents practiced hands gingerly cradled a bunch. A pair of hand shears swooped into position at the base of the stem, a metallic thwack cut the air, and the grapes moved on to the next stage of their life.

Concord grapes sit in a bucket after being harvested on Sept. 20, 2016. These grapes will be turned into jam. (Flavor 574 photo/Joe Kuharic)
Concord grapes sit in a bucket after being harvested on Sept. 20, 2016. These grapes will be turned into jam. (Flavor 574 photo/Joe Kuharic)

You’re looking for fully formed clusters when harvesting. Split grapes indicate too much moisture in the fruit — too much water means less flavor and color — but a few on a bunch aren’t a deal breaker.

Specifically with Concord, a dark blue color is a great indicator, but it’s not the end-all be-all. Sometimes, you have to watch the weather — harvest before fall rains to avoid split grapes — and trust your gut on when to pick.

It didn’t take long for the four of us to fill two 5-gallon buckets worth of grapes, but the delicately fruity aroma of Concord grapes in the air beckoned us to linger a little longer.

While these grapes will fulfill their destiny as jam instead of wine, no less care has gone into them from start to finish. In fact, many of their brothers and sisters are being turned into wine as we speak.

Barb Kuharic carefully trims a bunch of grapes on Sept. 20, 2016, at the Kuharic's winery on the westside of South Bend. Kuharic is the mother of Flavor 574 Editor Joe Kuharic. (Flavor 574 photo/Joe Kuharic)
Barb Kuharic carefully trims a bunch of grapes on Sept. 20, 2016, at the Kuharic’s winery on the west side of South Bend. Kuharic is the mother of Flavor 574 Editor Joe Kuharic. (Flavor 574 photo/Joe Kuharic)

If you’re interested in the next step in the life of a grape to become wine, check back soon to see how grapes are crushed and pressed.

If you wanna make your own Concord grape jam, Epicurious has a simple recipe for making and canning your own.

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