In 1994 I planted a grape vine on the south-facing hill in my back yard in Toronto. It’s a Grüner Veltliner, a white winter-hardy Vinifera from Austria. The viticulture courses I’ve taken since 1984 were interesting but they hardly prepared me for the realities of cultivating a vine. It took a couple of years to realize that fruit only grows on second-year wood, and a couple more to teach me that you don’t get a load of grapes by allowing shoots to proliferate like crazy.
Once I started getting fruit from my vine, I quickly learned that raccoons always know when the grapes are ripe and eat them all during the night before I’m ready to pick them. I tried stapling window screen bags around each bunch but the critters regarded them as Ziploc bags for their snacks. I decided that the solution was to buttress the bags with chicken wire fencing around the vine. Raccoons seem not to like the stuff and we had good results with it in our tomato patch.
It also became clear to me that if I wanted a chance to harvest enough fruit to do a micro-vinification and make a bottle of Bayview Estates Doktor Vineyard Grüner Veltliner I’d need more vines. In 2010 I grafted over a couple of shoots and repeated the process in 2013. The “little vines” did wonderfully and by last spring I had an actual seven-plant vineyard.
Spring was long and cool here this year but to my surprize and delight I ended up with ten beautiful bunches of flowers. ‘13 looked to be the vintage I’d been waiting for—at least until July 8. That was the date of a remarkable one-hour storm that flooded roads and basements in Toronto. The result of that torrent was coulure (known as ‘shatter’ in English.) All but one of my flowers stopped growing. My harvest was ruined!
A couple of days after the storm I found one bunch of flowers still alive hiding under the vine’s soggy spotty leaves. They developed into ten tiny grapes which wouldn’t be enough to vinify. The good news is that Grüner is one of the few Vinifera varieties that can also serve as table grapes. I wouldn’t be able to drink my harvest but I could eat it.
As the weeks passed eight of my ten grapes stopped growing. It was disheartening, but I still had two berries that looked good. I followed their growth past the usual September 1 picking date and left them hanging until September 27 when I picked them. (I’m off to Chile tonight and didn’t want to leave them for another week.) With great ceremony I brought them in to the house and the Queen of Cuisine and I each ate one. They demonstrated great minerality and lemon flavours associated with the grape. They also showed enough acidity to dissolve the enamel off my teeth.
I empathise greatly with the vignerons who face the vagaries of the weather and its impact on their crops. They have thousands of vines and depend on them for their income. (See Bordeaux 2013 for further grisly details.) I have also learned to follow their world view regarding grapes: Wait ‘till next year!