On the outskirts of Maryville, Missouri, past where Icon Road turns from pavement to gravel, is a small vineyard.
Backyard Vine and Wine is a local, family-owned and operated vineyard. What started as a retirement project for patriarch Carl Christensen, now stands at five acres of grape vines. With harvest season here, the family reached out to the community to help harvest bunches of red grapes.
The event was held by Carl’s daughter, Stephanie Christensen.
“The first plants were planted back in 2008,” Stephanie Christensen said. “It started with one plot then to another plot. We finally ran out of plots. Now we have just a hair over 26,000 plants.”
The vineyard tries to keep the harvesting to just family, but with so many plants, they started inviting the community to join them two years ago.
Armed with bunch cutters and five-gallon buckets, roughly a dozen people came to help the Christensen family collect the fruits of their labor this harvest. Volunteers were friends, some students and some who saw the Facebook announcements.
Shelby Trussel is a graduate student at Northwest who worked with Stephanie Christensen at the Veronica Luke Accounting agency and came out to help her friend.
“I’ve been out here a few times,” Trussel said. “Once for a concert over the summer, a few times with friends to go to the winery, and when I heard about this I was like, ‘I wanna come help pick grapes and be part of the process.’ It’s a cool morning and it’s a pretty simple process. It’s really all about the experience.”
Trussel also brought along her roommate, wildlife ecology junior Carmella Rackers, to give harvesting a try.
“I think there is something really relaxing and exciting about waking up early and getting to do something and being outside and doing something you don’t normally get to do,” Rackers said. “It’s something I’m probably not going to do often. I don’t plan on having grapes. I probably won’t ever make wine.”
As a family-owned operation, the Christensen family also prides themselves on fermenting their wine in a natural way.
“Basically, we take the grapes off the plants, then we crush them,” Stephanie Christensen said, as she stood by the stove, peeling potatoes for the lunch her family promised their volunteers. “If they needed pressed, we press them. Whites get pressed immediately after getting crushed. Reds ferment right on their skins. Then they ferment. We try to do as much natural filtration as possible.”
Stephanie Christensen said the process takes about two rackings, another term for wine filtration, by moving wine from one barrel to another through gravity rather than a pump. The racking process varies in duration. The Christensen’s capped their last bottle from the 2018 harvest this month.
It’s the natural fermentation that is part of the reason the family asks for volunteers. Though machines are convenient, they can be expensive and make the natural yeast production for the house wine much harder, if not impossible. If the bunches are hand-harvested, then it’s easier to spot spoiled fruit and prevent it from souring the barrel.
Stephanie Christenen’s sister Ruby Brownlee explained what makes a good bottle of red wine.
“It needs to be full flavored and not watered down,” Brownlee said, layering potatoes, ham, cheese and other toppings in a dish to bake for scalloped potatoes. “Personally, I like it to be sweet.”
The vineyard produces white wine, red wine and rosés. While the vineyard has thousands of plants, the volunteers only had to focus on two long rows of grapes. To help celebrate the harvest, the family also hosted a concert by Phil Vandel the same night.