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Volunteer grape pickers get their day in the sun

CANNON FALLS -- Wine lovers gained a new appreciation for the drink during the Cannon River Winery 's Harvest Celebration, which began this weekend.

"I always thought wine came from the liquor store," joked Ken Rood, of Apple Valley, as he hauled a crate of grapes that he'd just cut from the vine.

Rood was among the first shift of more than 40 volunteers who spent Saturday morning picking grapes at the Cannon River Winery vineyard.

For years, customers at the winery have asked how they could be a part of the grape harvest, said Maureen Maloney, who owns Cannon River Winery with her husband, John Maloney. So although they've usually hired pickers, she said, this year they decided to turn the task of harvesting 20 acres of grapes over to volunteers.

Using a pruning fork, volunteers picked the vines clean, sometimes twisting their bodies into the vines to reach entwined bunches, and methodically moved row by row.


"So far, you're the A team," John Maloney told the first group of volunteers.

While there are machines that can be used to harvest grapes, he said hand-picked grapes assure quality.

Plus, he said, "People enjoy being out here. It helps them get back to the land, since it's locally grown and locally produced. And it's a great place to be."

Volunteers have already signed up from the Twin Cities, Red Wing, Rochester and Wisconsin. But more volunteers are needed as the harvest is expected to take the rest of the month.

Because most of the volunteers have never picked grapes before, everyone is given a primer on how it's done.

"I thought we would be picking individual grapes," said Marlene Aakre, of Kasson, who was relieved to find out that grapes are picked by the bunch.

Another sweet surprise, she said, was, "They said we could eat as many as we want."

And while crates of the golden Edelweiss grapes picked Saturday were brought directly to the winery to be destemmed and pressed for Sogn Blanc and Sogn Blush wines, the volunteers won't be able to savor the fruits of these labors until February.

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