Fall is for fruit picking and in New Jersey, there’s certainly no shortage of farms to choose from. One of my favorite places in Cape May County has to be Natali Vineyards, an old world farm winery. When I was invited to be part of the sauvignon blanc harvest, I couldn’t have been more excited. This isn’t your typical stuffy winery. Natali Vineyards truly celebrates their wine from vine to glass, with grape picking parties and year round wine tasting events that feature rockin’ live bands and local vendors.
Arriving at the vineyard at 9:30 am, I found myself outfitted with a glove and a set of clippers. Vineyard manager, Kevin Celli instructed me to check for fruit all the way through to the back side of the vine, clear out all the dried up grapes from the harvested bunches and examine the tops of the vines for hard, underdeveloped grape clusters. These clusters had to be harvested too in order to prevent the vine from continuing to try to nourish them. Kevin said it’s important that the photosynthesis process at this time of year focus on the strengthening the bark of the vine for the winter months. We discarded the underdeveloped grapes in the soil below to fertilize it for next year’s wine.
Spending the day with my face and arms buried in a perfect insect habitat while the sun beats down isn’t really as appealing to me as air conditioning, but there was a sense of invincibility in the vineyard. I think I understand why poets write about nature as man’s great retreat from himself. The music of the grapes plunking into the buckets and the soft, steady sound of the clippers hypnotized me. It was calm and quiet. I was doing physical labor that has been done for thousands of years and yet, it didn’t feel like work. I didn’t even notice the heat of the sun (though I did end my adventure as a slightly crispier version of myself). There was only the vine and me.
At 12:30, Chef Ray rang the lunch bell and all the grape pickers gathered at the farm house for a feast of thanks and celebration. He laid out a spread of stuffed chicke
n, grilled Si
cilian eggplant, prosciutto wrapped asparagus, ripe tomatoes with mozzarella and an array of grilled veggies. They also presented us with a bottle each of sauvignon blanc, the wine we had just picked along with a table full of samples of their award winning wines to compliment our amazing lunch spread.
Natali Vineyards holds free grape picking parties every Wednesday during harvest season. Just call to reserve your spot.
221 N Delsea Dr (Rt 47)
Cape May Court House
Alison Heller is the Jersey Bites Cape May County Regional Editor. She also writes for Examiner.com and TrendHunter.com. She grew up on the beach in Wildwood Crest and currently works in advertising. After earning her Master of Fine Arts in English and Creative Writing in New York City (a place that was essentially Food Rehab), she stopped putting ketchup on everything and started experimenting with flavors. She loves sushi and cupcakes, sushi that looks like cupcakes, but never cupcakes that look like sushi. www.superalzy.com