Chambourcin Wine Harvest
At its root, growing wine grapes is like farming. (In fact, it is farming). And like other mature farm crops, a Chambourcin wine grape harvest takes place annually in August and/or September. (The specific timing really depends on the ripeness and Brix level of each varietal). We were lucky to learn all of this first hand – so we do hope you’ll watch our Rowe Ridge Chambourcin Wine Harvest video to see this working farm in action during the wine harvest weekend we were lucky to be a part of.
Chambourcin Red Wine Varietal – A Kansas Local Favorite
Chambourcin is a red wine grape varietal able to thrive in many challenging climates. It’s prominent qualities include a bitter, earthy taste and dark, red tannins. Some local Kansas and Missouri wine tasters think of it as the Cabernet Sauvignon of the midwest (although Chambourcin tasting remains rather uncommon outside of the U.S. Midwest region).
Wine growing states like Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Arkansas experience much colder winter months than Pacific coastal states. As a result, varietals like Pinot Noir are nearly impossible to keep healthy without dying. Heartier grape vines like Norton and Chardonnel can live through the long weeks of the brutal winter cold; however, they invariably lack the gentle palate and delicate fruit qualities of more sought after premium wines.
Wine Tasting Chambourcin at Rowe Ridge Vineyard & Winery
Our personal Rowe Ridge journey began on another beautiful crisp autumn Saturday in Kansas City. Only a few sparse trees contained leaves turning brown. The sky was sunny and the temperature around seventy degrees. We excitedly opened the door to the Rowe Ridge wine tasting room. That’s where we met Pam Rowe (co-owner and co-founder with her husband, Marc).
Rowe Ridge Vineyard & Winery makes you feel right at home; where you’re welcome to sip, relax and ask any anything you want. They only charge eight dollars per tasting – which includes at least six healthy pours – and includes a Rowe Ridge wine tasting glass as a souvenir to take home. Their handmade bottles of wine are only fifteen dollars to purchase and you’re welcome to uncork one there and stick around to enjoy the views of the vineyard. Rowe Ridge also serves wine slushies for eight dollars by the cup and afternoon family gatherings are welcome!
The Real Joy Of Wine Tasting Includes Great Conversations
We had just finished our first two tastings of Chardonel and Seyval Blanc. Both whites – both refreshing and smooth. But it was during our third wine when Kimberly said, “I think that’s one of the first Chambourcin’s I’ve tasted that I actually liked!” Her revelation cracked the place up. Like I said, Chambourcin can be extremely bitter – and very notably “earthy”. While I’m usually the outspoken one of the group, that’s an example of how comfortable wine tasting at Rowe Ridge can be. In fact, over an hour had passed before we realized how much in-depth conversation and knowledge Pam had afforded us. (We talked at great length about winemaking, local varietals, local liquor laws and Kansas Winery Trails).
It was finally five o’clock and closing time when our exit rapidly approached. Today had been another truly exceptional wine tasting experience, so I expressed my interest to Pam about recording some video at her winery. Given our comfortable rapport, she was more than open to the idea and asked if we wanted to come back next weekend to join the Chambourcin wine harvest volunteer group. What an offer! We asked what time, she said “around nine” and we thanked her for the invite. “We’ll see you next weekend,” we chimed as we smiled and left. Kimberly and I were thrilled; we wouldn’t miss that for the world!
Chambourcin Wine Harvest at the Rowe Ridge Family Farm
Along with many others, we arrived just after 8:30 am on Saturday, September 16th. It was fun to watch the gathering group of volunteers and winery workers all here to pick the Chambourcin wine harvest. They suited up with work gloves, harvest tools, and yellow plastic containers – while I mounted my cell phone as a video camera onto the swivel head of my metal Bogen tripod.
As we entered the field of grape vines, Pam thanked us for coming to donate our time and enthusiasm. Then she described where to cut above the grape cluster at a visible curved elbow. As she led the group to the rows of vines in the fields where she demonstrated how to place the clipped wine grape clusters in the yellow bins. “These hold about 20 pounds of grapes,” she explained. After the large blue bin was brought by the tractor, then it could be filled with the smaller yellow bins. Then the tractor would take that large bin back for temporary storage – before sorting the Chambourcin wine harvest.
Pam says, “We Love Chambourcin!”
“We are harvesting Chambourcin,” Pam me, “so we depend on volunteers to come help us get our grape crop in. They’re very instrumental in getting everything picked. They (the wine grapes) should be about perfect.” I asked Pam ideally what mature grapes should look like and so she showed some to the camera. “There’s a nice cluster right here. See that? That’s a good cluster. For the most part, it’s a good size, all the grapes seem to have ripened about the same. We’ve got a little down here at the bottom that’s not ripe – but for the most part, this is the size of cluster we would like to have. And, if you take one off and open it up you can see that pretty juice and the brown seeds and the soft skin. And it tastes good.”
Wine Grape Pollination Timing Crucial For The Bloom
Pam says, “Grapes are self-pollinating. The conditions at the time that each variety pollinates is instrumental into the amount of grapes that we get. This year,” she added, “pollination of Chardonel happened during a week that we had a lot of rain. In fact, we had a major hailstorm. So we initially thought we would have no Chardonel. We did get some on second bloom (not what we would normally have). But evidently, pollination of Chambourcin was during a dry period because you can see that we’re just loaded with Chambourcin.”
Pam continued, “Our August weather slowed [the grapes] way down. I would have thought we would have already picked these by now. But we had such a cool August that the development of sugars slowed way down. So we tried to delay [harvest] a little longer than we might have so we could have sugar development which is instrumental in our alcohol level when we fermented them.”
The Purpose Of Bird Netting On The Grape Vines
I asked Pam what the netting was for. She told me, “The netting keeps the bird damage down. One of the issues this year that we’ve seen is – and I think it’s because of our weather with a hot July and cool August – that ripening has been very uneven this year in most of the grapes. So we will have grapes that are not ready to pick and some that are. That’s when we get bird damage because the birds will tell you immediately when they’re ready because they will eat them!” “These did not get netted,” showing me a row of grape vines, “so we’ll see some of the effects of the birds here. I’m seeing a lot of it actually. They’ve taken the grapes right off all of these here.”
Wine Grape Brix Level Determines The Level Of Alcohol
Brix is a measurement of the sugar content of grapes. Talking about the Chambourcin grapes being harvested today, Pam explained, “So we’re hoping that our Brix level on these will be about twenty. We love twenty-one, but we don’t always get that. It’s the sugar level that makes the alcohol so when we’re looking at Brix level, twenty will give us about eleven percent [alcohol]. Twenty-one will give us about twelve percent alcohol. So that’s the reason we would like to have the higher Brix – more alcohol in the wine,” she explained.
Pam also told me, “Because we’re growing hybrids, we don’t often get a lot of the alcohol levels we like. This year it was a challenge getting the Brix level up to produce the alcohol we like to have in the wine.”
As a regional wine-grower and local Kansas City winemaker, Pam Rowe is the real deal. Next time you’re on the Kansas side of Kansas City (during the summer months), make sure you stop by Rowe Ridge Vineyard & Winery for wine tasting. You’ll be glad you did (I promise). Check their website for more information. And please tell Pam that Kimberly and Jay of Impeccably Paired sent you. Thanks for reading and watching our Chambourcin wine harvest adventure!