Harvesting the Grapes at Gouveia Vineyards, Wallingford, Connecticut, USA
Written by Debra C. Argen and Edward F. Nesta   
Edward Nesta with Gouveia Vineyards Seyval Blanc Grapes - Photo by Luxury Experience It was a perfect late summer day with the sky so blue it was almost surreal, with grapes ripe and golden in the bright sunlight set against the vibrant green leaves. It was harvesting time at Gouveia Vineyards in Wallingford, Connecticut, and the Adventure Kids aka Edward F. Nesta and Debra C. Argen of Luxury Experience, along with other family and friends gathered to bring in the grapes for the new vintage.

Owner and Winemaster Joe Gouveia of the 140-acre Gouveia Vineyards is like Mark Twain's character Tom Sawyer who convinces his friends that painting a fence would be great fun. How else could you explain that we were up very early on a Sunday morning, driving an hour away to Gouveia Vineyards to harvest grapes when most sensible people were still asleep in bed? 

Lucy, Alli, Joe, Theresa,and Amanda Gouveia - Photo by Luxury Experience
Lucy, Alli, Joe, Theresa, and Amanda Gouveia

We had met Joe several weeks prior when visiting the vineyard and he invited us to come and participate in the harvesting on September 19, 2010. We distinctly remember he said, "It would be fun." Oenophiles that we are, we have been to vineyards and wineries around the world and have seen all aspects of winemaking, yet we had never had a hand in harvesting so we thought, "Why not?"

Mr. and Mrs. Fattore and Daughters - Photo by Luxury Experience
Mr. and Mrs. Fattore and Daughters

We arrived at Gouveia Vineyards a little after 8:00 am and followed the signs for volunteer parking and registration. Once registered, we braced ourselves for a day of harvesting grapes, bolstered by cups of Dunkin Donuts coffee and a donut or two, and chatted with the other volunteers. 

Although this was our debut harvesting grapes, for many of the volunteers, this was their second, third, or even fourth harvest, so we figured that it must indeed be fun if they kept returning. Volunteers ranged in age from pre-school to well past retirement age, multi-generational families came to harvest, people traveled to Gouveia Vineyards for the experience of harvesting grapes not only from the surrounding towns, but also from the states of Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York, and as far away as China, Japan, and Mexico. All counted, there were over 250 volunteers who came to help bring in the harvest. 

Three Generations of the Fonseca Family - Photo by Luxury Experience
Three Generations of the Fonseca Family Ready to Pick

Wearing sunglasses, jeans, casual shirts, and sneakers, and armed with clippers and gloves, we were ready to begin. We eagerly listened as Theresa Gouveia, Joe and Lucy Gouveia's niece, provided us with instructions on which grapes to pick, namely the plump, golden ones, and not the small, still green unripe ones. Instruction also included how we should clip the grapes from the vines and place them in the plastic trays and buckets provided. 

Nick Amarone and Theresa Gouveia  - Photo by Luxury Experience
Nick Amarone and Theresa Gouveia Instructing Volunteers

Gouveia Vineyards' grows the varietals Seyval Blanc, Vignoles, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Cayuga, St. Croix, Cabernet Sauvignon, Muscat, Traminette, and Zinfandel. Due to the long, hot summer, with alternate periods of rain and dry spells, the grapes were ready two weeks ahead of schedule, and they had already harvested the St. Croix. 

We would begin the day by harvesting the Seyval Blanc grapes. Once we filled our trays, we would leave the filled trays behind and move down the row to the next group of grapes, while volunteers would gather up our filled trays and carry them to the trucks that would deliver them to the crushing machines to extract the juice and remove the stems.

Gouveia Vineyard - Seyval Grapes- Photo By Luxury Experience
Seyval Grapes

Theresa's final words of instruction before she sent us off were, "No pressure, if you do not pick, we have no wine ... no pressure. Do not overfill your buckets; otherwise, the grapes will fall out when the volunteers place them in the trucks. Now go to the end of the rows and pick everything!"

Debra C. Argen with Gouveia Vineyard Seyval Grapes - Photo by Luxury ExperienceEdward F. Nesta with Gouveia Vineyard Seyval Grapes - Photo by Luxury Experience
Debra and Edward Picking Seyval Grapes

When we first met Joe Gouveia, he told us about growing up in a small village of under 90 people in Portugal where everyone helped their neighbors at harvest time. His family moved to the United States when he was 14 years old, and he had the dream of one day owning a vineyard. He realized his dream in 1999 when he and his wife Lucy established Gouveia Vineyards and planted 32-acres of vines. As we moved along the rows cutting the Seyval Blanc grapes from the vines, surrounded by volunteers speaking English, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, and Chinese, it reminded us of Joe's story of growing up in Portugal where everyone helped one another. Like in Portugal, the community had gotten together to help the Gouveia family bring in the 2010 crops here in Connecticut. 

Volunteers Picking Grapes at Gouveia Vineyard - Photo by Luxury Experience
Volunteers Picking Seyval Grapes

Harvesting grapes by hand is hard work; first, you must carefully cut the grapes from the vines, trim away excess stems and remove the leaves, followed by placing the grapes in the plastic trays, and then carrying the filled trays to the waiting trucks. 

Nick Amarone carrying bins at Gouveia Vineyard - Photo by Luxury Experience
Nick Amarone Carrying Bins   

There is a lot of bending and cutting involved, and everyone has his or her own style of going about the task of harvesting. We watched as some volunteers went about the task of cutting the grapes from a standing position, others kneeled or crouched, while some of them sat on the ground or on plastic buckets. 

Mrs. Fonseca Picking Grapes at Gouveia Vineyard - Photo by Luxury Experience
 Mrs. Fonseca Picking For The First Time

Our approach was a variation of all of the methods, we would start out standing to cut the grapes growing high on the vine, bending at the waist for the mid-level grapes, and then crouching and kneeling for the low-growing grapes. Our motto was "leave no ripe grape on the vine." In fact, Theresa regularly reminded people to go up and down the rows doing "quality inspections" to ensure there were no ripe grapes left. 

Mr. Fattore picking grapes att Gouveia Vineyard - Photo by Luxury Experience
Mr. Fattore Using Bucket To Pick Grapes

It was a bright and beautiful day, with a slight chill in the early morning air, and with clippers in hand, and the ground still wet with dew, we tackled cutting our first grapes, taking great care in placing them in the plastic trays, knowing that our efforts would be part of the 2010 vintage. After about an hour, the sun started to intensify, and although we were at the end of summer, just days before the beginning of autumn, the temperature had steadily risen to 81 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degree Celsius). 

Volunteer picking grapes at Gouveia Vineyard - Photo by Luxury ExperienceVolunteer picking grapes at Gouveia Vineyard - Photo by Luxury ExperienceVolunteer picking grapes at Gouveia Vineyard - Photo by Luxury Experience
Volunteers in Action

There were so many people harvesting, that the plastic buckets filled up quickly with grapes lining the rows ready for the crusher. Edward decided to trade in his clippers and help carry the filled buckets, which weighed around 15 pounds per bucket, to the ends of each of the rows where the trucks would load up for the short trip to the crusher. The "mules" as the carriers were affectionately called, worked as a team methodically clearing each row while doing quality control scanning the vines for hidden grapes. Throughout the day, the trucks brought hundreds upon hundreds of filled buckets to the crusher. 

Despite the high temperature, there was a party atmosphere in the vineyard with music by the Rocha family who walked down the rows playing their accordions, volunteers sang in their native languages, and everyone was laughing, chatting with fellow volunteers, making new friends, and yes, rapidly harvesting the grapes. 

Rocha Family playing music at Gouveia Vineyard - Photo by Luxury Experience
The Manuel Rocha Family 

By 1:00 pm, we had finished harvesting the Seyval Blanc grapes and it was time for lunch, an enormous cookout with wine provided by Joe and Lucy Gouveia. Sitting side by side at long tables under a white tent, new friendships developed as the volunteers reminisced about their day of harvesting. 

Prepairing Lunch at Gouveia Vineyard - Photo by Luxury Experience
Preparing Lunch

After lunch, we returned to the vineyard to harvest the Chardonnay grapes, and by then we felt like we were "pros." We finished the day by watching the trucks unload the grapes into the crushing machine that extracted the juice and discarded the stems. As we watched the process, we thought about the fact that when Joe Gouveia bottles the 2010 Sevyal Blanc and Chardonnay vintages, we will have had a part in creating them; now that is a "Luxury Experience." Cheers! 

Crushing the grapes at Gouveia Vineyard - Photo by Luxury Experience
Crushing the Grapes

Gouveia Vineyards is open year-round Thursday from 11:00 am until 8:00 pm, Friday from 11:00 am until 8:00 pm, Saturday from 11:00 am until 8:00 pm, and Sunday from 11:00 am until 6:00 pm. 

Stainless Steel Tanks at Gouveia Vineyard - Photo by Luxury ExperienceBarrels at Gouveia Vineyard - Photo by Luxury Experience
Stainless Steel to Barrel to Bottle to Your Table

Joe and Lucy Gouveia encourage visitors to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy with a glass of one of their wines, and there is live entertainment on Saturdays from 4:00 pm until 7:00 pm. Their location nestled high on a hill provides the perfect place to watch the sunset from the outdoor patio, or inside at a table sitting near the fireplace in the cooler months.

Edward and new friend Olivia at Gouveia Vineyard - Photo by Luxury Experience
Edward Relaxing With New Friend Olivia

For information on participating in the next harvest, please contact Gouveia Vineyards 

Gouveia Vineyards, Wallingford, Connecticut, USA - Photo By Luxury Experience Gouveia Vineyards
1339 Whirlwind Hill Road
Wallingford, Connecticut 06482
United States
Telephone:    +1-203-265-5526
Email:    This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it  
Website:      www.GouveiaVineyards.com

Read other related articles on the Connecticut Wine Trail in the Destinations, Restaurants, and Chefs' Recipes sections. 

For additional information on the Connecticut Wine Trail, please visit: www.CTWine.com. For additional information on Connecticut Grown products, please visit: www.CTGrown.gov.  

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