When I came across a Facebook event for a volunteer harvest day at a local Connecticut vineyard, I leapt at the chance to get outside and in the vines, meet like-minded people, and just enjoy myself.
Paradise Hills Vineyard and Winery is family owned and operated. The Ruggiero’s started growing grapes in 1997 and sold to winemakers, but eventually started making their own wines, from their own crops and sourced grapes.
I got up at 6.30am to get ready, and even though I’m generally not a morning person, I had no trouble waking up or getting ready. Arriving at the vineyard a little before 8am, everything was chill and calm. The winery is reminiscent of Tuscany with the architecture, colouring, and abundant plant life, all overlooking the vines.
Other volunteer harvesters and vineyard staff began to arrive, and we were treated to coffee and bagels as people started to mingle and chat. After our light nosh, we grabbed our sheers and headed into the vineyard proper.
Today we were harvesting Chardonnay, a white variety so I decided I didn’t need my gloves (if we’d been harvesting a black grape, I definitely would’ve worn gloves to avoid the staining!). Marcelo, Paradise’s winemaker, was very laid back and told us to just harvest everything that the birds hadn’t gotten to yet. Even with nets, the birds had found themselves quite a feast.
But the sun was up and the day was absolutely perfect to be out, crouched among vines heavily laden with juicy bunches of grapes that would shortly be made into wine.
Some came in groups, others, like myself, were solo, but we worked side by side and had easy conversations, moving to new harvesting companions when we finished a row. It was the first day of normalcy and just FUN I’ve had since this whole pandemic began. Being out in the sun and fresh air, getting my hands dirty, working with the bounty of nature; it was bliss. Strenuous physical labour, mind you, but still, bliss.
While chairs were offered and many utilized them, I preferred to crouch and get right into the foliage, often having to pull leaves and vines out of the way to get to the delicious bunches. We filled crate after crate with grapes; about 25 rows needed to be harvested this go ‘round, and Marcelo estimated at the end we’d picked about 4,000 pounds. As there were quite a number of us, we got through it all by around 1.30pm and then sat down to a provided lunch with, of course, wine! I tried two of their red wines and both were well made and perfect for drinking in this kind of setting; food, new friends, a sunny day, just the best of atmospheres.
By now the winery had been opened to the public for some hours, and customers were streaming in to buy bottles and enjoy them on the lush grounds and even taking them into the vines. Most of the harvesters left after lunch, but I was enjoying myself so much I decided to stay and help bring the crates back into the winery. This involved stacking the brimming crates onto the tractor’s front pallet, so again, more manual labour, but my body was happy for the exercise. Having spent so much time alone in my apartment, doing a lot of cerebral work, this was such a nice (and much needed) change.
During the day I also got to meet and chat a little bit with I think every member of the Ruggiero family – I was just tickled by how genuinely kind and friendly everyone was, and I realized how much I missed being around people, but particularly wine people. Just solid, down to earth folks. It was so refreshing, and I look forward to enjoying more of their inviting ambiance and delicious wines.