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Stories from the valley

Ripping green grapes from the vine with our bare hands

Contributed by Tim Johnson

This post falls into the category of ‘I never knew’ and involves one of the more recent activities at our family vineyard here in the Sierra Foothills. This time of year nothing is more iconic than a ripening bunch of wine grape just ready for harvest. How we get them to this point, however, involves a bit on grapevine violence!

Often the practice of removing some fruit from a grapevine is couched in the agronomic terms such as thinning or green drop.  A better description would be ripping out green bunches with your bare hands and throwing them on the ground (or if you are with a family member – chucking it at them!) This is the better description of the actual process.

grapesThe process starts when the bunches (called clusters) have started to ripen and turn a uniform purple. Approaching the vine you are on the lookout for the clusters that are still green and hard – far from ripening. You are also looking for the small clusters that are the vines second crop. Both of these immature clusters will ripen far later than the bulk of the clusters that are purple and starting to taste sweet.

Next comes the barehanded violence. You could clip each green or second crop cluster but it is time consuming. Instead you take advantage to the fact that the stems on these clusters are green and snap with a quick angular tug. Looking down the rows at the 700 vines per acre and it becomes clear you need to do this fast and with some purpose.

The result is a two handed flurry of pushing back canes to see the green bunches, a quick hook with an index finger and an sharp tug. Green grapes drop, a few leaves follow and you’re on to assault the next vine.

In a month or so, the result is that picture-perfect Zinfandel cluster hanging  alongside its fellows, proud, purple and perfectly ready for harvest.