Central Vermont Vineyard Tries Pick-Your-Own

Sep 29, 2016

Fall is apple season, and pick-your-own orchards are a popular destination. But it's also grape season, and one vineyard in Randolph Center is adopting the pick-your-own technique.

Hours of pruning — 600 grape vines worth of it — done early in the season are bearing fruit now at Monro Hill Vineyard. Much of the work was done by Willow Griffith, who manages the vineyard.

But she’s not picking the grapes. That’s your job.

“It’s pretty unique to anywhere," says Griffith. "I emailed around like University of Minnesota and Cornell just to see if they had ideas on retail prices and they said, ‘You’re kind of on your own.''"

To be clear, these are not table grapes. They’re wine grapes, with varieties ranging from deep red to bluish purple to a creamy pale green.

“They’ve got seeds and the skin is a little tougher and they’re a little bit different from table grapes,” Griffith points out.

She says some varieties she’s growing may be ideal for wine but they’re sweet enough to eat off the vine, or used for jellies, jams or juices.

"It's pretty unique to anywhere. I emailed around like University of Minnesota and Cornell just to see if they had ideas on retail prices and they said, 'You're kind of on your own.'" — Willow Griffith, Monro Hill Vineyard manager

She estimates there are six tons of grapes. The birds took their share until Griffith installed some aluminum pie pans that bang in the wind to scare them away.

Griffith thought most of her customers would be serious winemakers coming to haul away big loads of grapes. That hasn’t been the case.

“I definitely was expecting more winemakers to come [saying], ‘I want 500 pounds.' I was expecting more of that traffic,” she says. “I’ve mostly had just people who wanted to get their feet wet and test it out and make a little bit of wine.”

Willow Griffith is the manager at Monro Hill Vineyard. She says she's been surprised by the types of people who have come to take advantage of their pick-your-own option.
Credit Steve Zind / VPR

The vineyard is on a farm owned by Ed Lincoln, who planted it nearly a decade ago, with the idea of making wine. That didn’t pan out, and it was Griffith’s idea to try pick-your-own.

Last weekend, on a beautiful early fall afternoon, there were just two customers. But they were serious pickers: brothers Christopher and Jon Piana of Fable Farm Fermentory in Barnard.

“We’re really blessed to be taking in the grape harvest. It’s a great season for grapes,”said Jon as he clipped bunches of grapes to load in plastic crates.

He and Christopher plan to pick a ton of grapes — an actual ton.

Their farm already produces wine from wild and abandoned apples, so they’re interested in experimenting with grapes.

“We have all the infrastructure that will be a really natural transition. We have the bladder presses to make wine,” says Jon Piana.

Jon Piana and his brother Christopher run Fable Farm Fermentory in Barnard, where they make wine out of apples and other fruits. They've come to Monro Hill Vineyard to pick a ton of grapes to experiment with at their farm.
Credit Steve Zind / VPR

The Monro Hill pick-your-own vineyard definitely has a work-in-progress feel to it.

Dealing with birds and beetles and figuring out what to charge for the grapes has been a learning process for Griffith.

“It’s been pretty interesting to try and figure it out and actually get people here and excited,” she says.

Even if the Piana brothers haul away a ton of grapes, there will be plenty left.

Griffith says the vineyard will be open this weekend for what she calls "the last big hurrah" while the grapes are still at their prime.