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Grape harvesting: the ‘super bowl’ of wine making

September is one of the most important months for wineries
Volunteers aid in harvesting the grape crop.
Volunteers aid in harvesting the grape crop.(Ian Cassette)
Published: Sep. 16, 2021 at 4:22 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 16, 2021 at 5:52 PM EDT
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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) - Hidden along the rolling hills overlooking the New River Valley, you’ll find the beautiful estate of Beliveau Farms. During the late summer days, Yvan Beliveau and his volunteers are hard at work harvesting this year’s crop.

We took a visit to his tranquil winery near Blacksburg to learn more about what he describes as the “super bowl” for wine makers.

Yvan, a well-traveled, Canadian-born immigrant with years of experience, has got the process down to a science.

He began Beliveau Farms in 2001, planting the first grapes in 2009.

He made his first wine, an award-winning wine, in 2011.

You could say he’s one of the best at what he does.

“It takes a long time for it to convert to sugar,” said Beliveau. “It tastes sweet, but it doesn’t have the sugar. It’s because of the variety why it tastes sweet.”

Beliveau waits for the perfect maturation of each variety before harvesting.
Beliveau waits for the perfect maturation of each variety before harvesting.(Ian Cassette)

Grapes are harvested based on their sugar content or brix, along with their pH level. Yvan knows exactly when each variety should be picked.

“So I do this three times so that I don’t have the influence of the water or the prior grape. And I look in there--what did I say it would come out to? 16 to 17? It’s 16.8.”

I told him that he was the G.O.A.T.

“It’s just that I’ve done with so many times,” he said. “I’ve got a pretty good idea.”

During the harvest season, every variety of grape is picked at a different time. Sparkling wines, for example, require low sugar content, so their grapes go first. While sweeter dessert wine grapes typically are picked last.

“And I’ll just see. It looks pretty ripe. See where it’s getting nice and dark? That’s probably three weeks away from picking.”

Timing is everything in the harvest which is why volunteers are so vital.

Every year brings its own challenges, with 2020 being one of the toughest years for Ivan, but not necessarily because of COVID.

“Oh gosh yes,” Beliveau said. “We never stopped raining.”

But this year’s harvest is expected to be the best it’s ever been at Beliveau Farms thanks to ideal weather conditions throughout the summer.

Vineyards have boomed in Virginia over the last decade, but the volatile weather brings unique challenges.

Beliveau believes that despite the challenges, Virginia wineries have plenty to offer wine connoisseurs.

“From here to another vineyard not far from here, you’ll have completely different grapes and completely different wine.”

Beliveau relies heavily on the help of volunteers during the harvest. If you would like to either visit his winery or volunteer, more information can be found here.

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