Why would the late Chuck Lupton be proud of me now?
I had a life long friend pass away three years ago. I had worked for Chuck’s dad — Chas Lupton — on Up-Ridge Holsteins for three years in my early to mid teens. Chuck was ten years older than I but we became friends and because the farm is just south of Stratford, I often saw him and his wife Marg (whose father and mine were good clergy-friends) when I would come down to the Stratford Shakespearean Festival. Chuck never did think though that I was much of a farmer and he wasn’t sure I ever learned much of real agricultural value during the three summers.
Well Chuck, guess what? I actually participated in a major spring pruning exercise at the Red Rooster Winery this month (Red Rooster is one of the wineries on the Naramata Road, on the edge of the city limits). As a member of their “wine club” one of the opportunities the winery provides is to help prune a section of the vineyard that is planted in Malbec grapes. (As a sidebar, by and large, I do love malbec wine!!)
The event starts on Friday evening with a gathering of the volunteer workers. Obviously some of them have been coming for a few years to this event, because it almost seems like a family reunion in the first hour or so. Nevertheless, even those of us coming for the first time were roundly welcomed — the winery does this by making sure we have more than enough wine to totally enjoy the classy foods (like flatbreads, mini-pizzas, etc.) that are served courtesy of the chef (who also operates Bognar’s in the core of the city of Penticton). There are a couple of social ice-breakers (including a contest with real prizes), but the Coop wherein the social event occurs is a well designed building with an upstairs (above the tasting room) that contains lots of nooks and alcoves with tables and chairs which makes sure that people meet each other and move about the facility. It was a good deal of fun and a nice way to end the day (the day actually had started relatively early with some good skiing and then the annual “pasta lunch at the ski hill condo” — attended by 8 hungry/thirsty skiers).
Saturday morning everyone turned up in working clothes (as opposed to the more upscale dress of the evening before). Before being handed snips (and if one had forgotten them, work gloves), there were scones, muffins, water and coffee as a form of greeting. This was followed by an orientation and safety session. Everyone was shown the proper way to use the snips and how to ensure a safe pruning time. Then we were sent off to our initial rows (when we finished those two rows, there was then a second pair of rows to prune). The day was sunny albeit a bit crisp. But once the pruning started I didn’t really notice the temperature, and the sun on my back was very comforting. I was surprised at how quickly the snipping came to me and it wasn’t any more than 1/2 a hour and the first rows were done — the second set of rows took another 1/2 hour. By this time even the slowest people had finished their initial rows — all that vineyard of malbec had been pruned by 11:00 a.m. or so.
The winery then provided a wee tour of the core part of the processing rooms. I have been though enough Okanagan wineries that I didn’t need to stand at the front of the crowd. It was interesting, but not novel. However once the tour was complete, a second educational moment came onto the schedule. We were given a taste test to see if we could differentiate between barreling in American Oak and French Oak re a similar bottle of Merlot. This was a lot of fun — of course my ego was also enhanced when I was one of the folk who got the correct answer.
Just when I thought it was over, we were ushered into another part of the winery where tables were laid out (with table cloths and napkins, no less) and we were treated to a three-course culinary delight (the salad was almost a meal in itself, the pasta main course was amazing — went well with various wines). The food was superb and, surprise of surprises, more wine appeared in our wine glasses. We were seated randomly so again new people were met. It was a very friendly meal. But when it came time for dessert, we were told to return to the Coop and go upstairs. There the chef prepared, before our very eyes an amazing creme brule type cup but without the brule, rather it was topped with a neat “mini-crepe-like goodie in a small ball” — not to be outdone by the servers at the winery tables, the upstairs dessert came with a host of different wines to try out. So as to not make any one of the wines jealous, I shall simply say that each wine tried, went well with the dessert set before us.
Finally it became obvious that if I was going to make the Okanagan Symphony Concert that evening, I’d better thank the hosts and leave. It was a delightful day (as was the evening before) and I am looking forward to returning in the autumn to help harvest this vineyard that I have successfully assisted in the pruning thereof…