When you think of harvest season, what comes to mind? We’re willing to bet you’re imagining golden sheaves of grain, mounds of orange and yellow squash, and barrels of shiny, red apples—and if you are, then you’re spot on. Harvest season in York Durham Headwaters is all about reaping the fruits of our labour from the land… or the vegetables or grains or quality meats as the case may be. But if we may make a suggestion, we would like you to add one more image to your harvest repertoire: grapes! Grapes lovingly plucked and pressed and fermented into delicious bottles of carefully crafted wine. Those wonderful Ontario vintages don’t just magically appear, after all. They are the result of an entire season of hard work by our wine growers and makers. Just like any of our farmers in YDH, our wineries have immense pride in sharing the fermented fruits of their labour each harvest season.
Holland Marsh Wineries in York Region is one of our local wine producers. It is a family-run vineyard and winery that focuses on small-batch, quality-driven wines. The winery was built on the 22-acre property in 2007, and is today one of the oldest vineyards and wineries outside of the traditional growing regions of Niagara and Prince Edward County. For the Nersisyan family, harvest season at Holland Marsh is the most exciting time of year. “I would say it’s our Christmas,” says Narek Nersisyan, Sales and Marketing Manager. “Everything that we have done throughout the year—from springtime pruning, to tilling, to tying the vines—it all leads up to these couple of weeks of harvesting and collecting our year’s worth of work.”
Harvest time at a winery isn’t just about being out in the field and working with the grapes on sunny autumn days (as romantic a notion as that may be). It involves significant preparation work on the back-end of the operation. Work such as final bottling of wine left in the fermenting tanks to clear space for the new juice, preparing the crushers, stemmers and presses, cleaning the tanks and setting up the hoses—these are all necessary and labour-intensive tasks that must be completed to ensure the equipment is ready to go when those new grapes come in. When the fruit does arrive, there are another three or four days of processing work to do on top of that. “It’s pretty exhausting, actually,” Narek laughs.
This year, the harvest season has been spectacular from a weather standpoint, and Holland Marsh Wineries was able to harvest much earlier than usual. “If you are buying Ontario wine, 2020 is going to be a great vintage,” Narek says. “Even though we had a late spring, the summer was extremely hot and dry, and we’re still getting that dryness into the fall season.” With a cooler climate than some of the more traditional wine growing regions around the world, Ontario produces reliably spectacular whites year after year. Cool climate reds such as pinot and baco noirs, cabernet sauvignons and gamays also do quite well. But in such years as this, where heat was in abundance, Narek and his team are expecting wonderful merlots, syrahs and shirazes. “These varietals thrive in hotter weather and produce some really interesting and richer wines,” he says.
In the last few years, Holland Marsh Wineries has begun to experiment with older traditions for some of its fruit. Whereas the modern practice is to process grapes immediately upon harvesting, Holland Marsh leaves some of its grapes to sit for a day or so first. “What we’ve noticed,” Narek says, “especially for the reds, is that the grapes continue to ripen after they are picked—just like any fruit. For our reds, we started adopting this old-school technique to take advantage of that extra ripening, which trickles into the quality of the wine.”
But it’s not all about the old-school. Side-by-side with these time-tested traditions are modern technologies that improve the outcome of a harvest. For example, Holland Marsh has a fleet of wind machines. These have been instrumental in staving off the damage that this year’s spring frost might have caused by creating a vortex in the vineyard that pushes the cold air away and pulls in the warm air, thus preventing the frost from burning the fruit buds. The wind machines were running this spring for approximately 20 hours in total. This was, Narek admits, more than usual, but it was necessary to save the harvest.
In the end, though, despite the tradition and technology, the labour and the love, much about the harvest is simply up to Nature’s whims. So when she is kind, and when there is a good harvest year like the one we’re having in 2020… well, let’s just say there is a darn good reason to indulge in all those harvest festivals, feasts and celebrations. “Mother Nature always likes to throw some curve balls,” Narek points out. “Something like that spring frost. You just can’t predict something like that. We simply have to follow best-practices and hope that the weather aligns and gives us an amazing year. But if we don’t get that, then we’ve at least tried our best. As I always say, you have to control the controllables, and don’t lose sleep over the things you cannot control.”
Visit Holland Marsh Wineries at 18270 Keele St., or online at www.hmwineries.ca. In case you missed it, check out our post on Holland Marsh’s Ice Wine Festival from this past winter: All About Ice Wine with Holland Marsh Wineries.
Story by Katherine Ryalen