A Note on Grapes and Experimental Farming
Last week we planted some wine grapes. Why would a brewery/cattle farm that largely grows hay and other cash crops plant wine grapes you ask? Because we felt like it mostly, but the question itself of “why” is still a very fair one to ask. If you’ve been following us on social media you may have noticed that we periodically post pictures of some other stuff we’ve been planting, such as Montmorency cherry trees, many varieties of hops, herbs, spices etc.
Increasingly we’ve been planting random things that we would like to see grow on our property. Over the past couple of years we’ve planted quite a lot of stuff (the once vacant, nearly 1 acre space at the side of our house has all of the sudden become very, very crowded) and we’ve had some crops experience more success than others (cherries probably being the most promising so far). Wine grapes are really just another extension of this continued drive to plant experimental crops that we already enjoy. We just need to see if we can a) grow it successfully; and b) cultivate it successfully. If we can do that, those crops will not only taste delicious, but also likely have a unique taste and terroir that only Caledon can offer. Wine grapes are our latest foray into this (probably) never ending quest to keeping planting and growing things.
We Also Really Like Wine
Wine is something that I’ve recently grown incredibly fond of. Beer was my first alcoholic beverage love. Obviously I’ve gone pretty far down that hops and barley filled rabbit hole, first as a consumer, and then took a step further and opened a brewery. But over the past couple of years wine has increasingly become something I am not only interested in, but genuinely fascinated by. And this fascination only continues to grow as the wine and beer worlds continue to collide more and more (largely because of the new influx of barrel aged focused brewers) both in terms of production process and the borrowing of vernacular from one another (I think beer is borrowing from wine much more than wine is from beer, but that’s neither here nor there).
I think there is a lot that we (meaning the general craft beer community) can learn from wine makers and vice versa and I’m excited to see if any of the varietals we chose can first, survive the climate we grow in (I think they can in our current climate change influenced climate), and second, produce a grape suitable for producing wine (less confident about that part). We’ll know in about 3-4 short years!
We have a lot of things in the pipeline to try growing (my wife might even say too many things… she’s probably right). There are a few other things that are higher than others at the moment. Barley and wheat are right near the top of that list. Both can be quite a challenge to grow in Ontario because well, most things are in this lovely province of ours. Our climate can be erratic and unkind (increasingly so over the past few years) and any crop that is susceptible to pests and disease isn’t going to have a great time.
We were planning on growing some barley this year until we had winter part 2 show up (you all remember that random 3 day snow storm where it snowed more in 3 days than the entire winter that came before it right? Good times) and basically crushed any possibility of that. You really want to have barley in the ground in April, and well, I’m sitting here writing this near the end of May and we’re just getting ready to plant now (clay soil dries out very slowly, so you can’t work it for a while). So suffice to say. There will be no estate grown barley or wheat finding its way into our beer this year. We’re thinking of maybe trying to do winter barley/wheat (that’s basically where you seed before winter arrives so that the seed is already in the ground, because spring likes to roll around whenever the eff it feels like it), but that in itself presents some challenges. It wouldn’t be experimental farming if we didn’t try these random low success rate ideas though, right? So we’ll probably try it at some point.
We will also be planting some apricot and plum trees in very small amounts if not this year, than next. Fruit is something you haven’t seen a lot of in our beer yet, but it is something that we absolutely love having in beer and you will be seeing much much more of once we have our bottle shop open. Aseptic purees are great for certain applications (sours/IPAs or anything where you need clean, sanitary fruit), but there is nothing better than fresh, whole fruit for other applications. This is particularly true with barrel aged sours and fruited re-fermentations (we don’t have anything in barrels yet, so it’ll be a while before you see one of those, sorry!)
Ultimately, it all ties back to beer
This is the most important part of all. Everything we are doing with random experimental crops, fruits and wine grapes all ties back to beer at the end of the day. Yes we are able to make wine with grapes (and we may just do that if it grows well enough), but ultimately our intent for these wine grapes are to use them in beer. Whether it is a wine grape re-fermentation or a blend of a wine and beer to make a beautiful hybrid, the end game for everything we are trying to grow right now is for it to be used in beer in some way in the future.
If you read this far and were wondering what wine grape varietals we planted, they are:
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Pinot Noir
- Baco Noir