In the last three years we’ve had a lot of firsts…

Our first strawberries

Middle Fork Farm strawberries

Our first grape vines

Middle Fork Farm vines

Our first kids

Middle Fork Farm kids

Our first spread

Middle Fork Farm spreads

Our first winemaking

Middle Fork Farm wine making

Tomorrow, we’ll have another much anticipated first—our first grape harvest from OUR vines! We’ll only harvest the white varieties, Pinot Gris, Viognier, and Chardonnay tomorrow. The reds need another week or so before they’ll be ripe enough to pick.

Immature Chardonnay

Middle Fork Farm Chardonnay

Mature Chardonnay

Middle Fork Farm Chardonnay

 

 

 

 

Bruce and Rick determine picking time by testing the balance of the sweetness (measured in Brix) and acidity of the fruit. To do this, they take a random sample every couple of days when the fruit starts to look ripe. The sample is then tested and when the fruit is above 20 Brix with a pH that is less than 3.3, it’s time to pick.

Pinot Gris

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Viognier

Middle Fork Farm Viognier

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, it’ll be an early start and our first task will be to pull back the bird netting that has Middle Fork Farm grapesprotected the growing fruit from, you guessed it—birds. Grape clusters are snipped at the base of the cluster and placed in bins. When we’re done, the bins go to King Family Vineyard to be made into wine. It will be refrigerated overnight and then sorted on Tuesday.

Stay tuned for pictures of picking and sorting and more about the wine making process.

We had another great day at Williams Sonoma this past Saturday. Erica and her crew, as well as the customers are total foodies, which makes sharing our spreads a pleasure.

Once again, we made our turkey, havarti, and spicy strawberry Paninis. These were a big hit last time and we love them, as well.  Also, we're trying to highlight ways jam can be used with savory foods—there are so many possibilities!   I also admit to loving the Breville Panini maker at Williams Sonoma and wanting to use it again (I promised Erica I wouldn’t hide it in my bag when we left).

But, if you’re like me and you don’t have a Panini maker at home, two frying pans work just fine or any non-stick surface to weigh down the sandwich.  Also, if you don’t want the turkey (or ham), jettison it and make a “grown-up” grilled cheese with your favorite cheese and lots of spicy strawberry spread. Or, if you’re gluten-free, substitute a corn tortilla and make a “grown-up” quesadilla.

OK, let’s talk about dessert.  We made two.

Middle Fork Farm at Williams Sonoma

We made strawberry lavender ice cream with dark chocolate chunks—yum! For this we used the sweet cream base #2 recipe from Ben and Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream & Dessert Book and added a jar of strawberry lavender spread and a bar of 72% dark chocolate roughly chopped. At home, I would also add nuts (walnut or pecan) to this and maybe put fresh fruit or hot fudge on top. Or, just eat it plain right from the ice cream canister.

For our 2nd dessert, we served chocolate thumbprint cookies with strawberry vanilla spread. If you like chocolate and fruit, these are for you. Any of your flavors would make a delicious filling with the possible exception of spicy strawberry. We adapted the cookie recipe from Pinch of Yum.

Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies with Strawberry Spread

  1. Chocolate Thumbprints with Strawberry VanillaCream 1 c + 2 T softened unsalted butter and ¾ cup sugar.  Add 1/3 c cocoa (we used King Arthur Double Dutch Dark Cocoa)
  2. In a clean bowl, combine 2 c flour, ½ tsp salt, ½ tsp baking soda, & 1 tsp baking powder
  3. Add flour mixture to butter mixture and combine
  4. Roll into small balls. Make a thumbprint and fill with jam (the yield depends on the size ball you make. Ours were pretty small and we got about 40 cookies).
  5. Bake at 3500 for about 9 minutes, depending on your oven and how soft/crisp you want them
  6. Let cool completely. Store in the refrigerator.

As you can tell, it was a tasty event!

In September, we'll be back at  Williams Sonoma and plan to share some new fall recipes. If you’re in the area, I hope you'll join us!  In the meantime, we're always looking for delicious new recipes that use our spreads so,  please share them with us and we'll post them.

Our friend, Pat, has a passion for many things —playing great music (see Local Vocals), selling real estate (he spent 4 years searching with us), and cooking delicious food for friends. After tasting our Spicy Strawberry Spread, he was eager to “play” with it.  A few evenings later, he showed up with a late night treat -- Spicy Strawberry BBQ Chicken.

Sara was eager to try it out (and take photos for this post) but had limited time.  She skipped the marinade and roasted it in the the oven.  Her family reported that it was  "delicious.”

Thanks, Pat! Thanks, Sara!

The timing couldn't be better because whether you grill it or roast it,  Spicy Strawberry BBQ Chicken is perfect for Father's Day!

So, here’s Spicy Strawberry BBQ Chicken 2-ways using Pat’s recipe with a slight modification from Sara.

Spicy Strawberry Sauce

thumb_IMG_7139_1024Combine the following ingredients:

1 jar Middle Fork Farm Spicy Strawberry

¼ c. Ketchup

¼ c. Canola oil

1 garlic clove crushed (added by Sara)

Salt and pepper

Grilled BBQ Chicken

Directions:

  1. Marinade thighs in Italian dressing and garlic cloves for 1-2 hours
  2. Sear chicken skin-side down
  3. Flip chicken and cook bone side down (Pat says the bone will radiate the heat to the meat)
  4. When 80% cooked, brush BBQ sauce on skin side
  5. Serve with extra sauce

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 Oven roasted BBQ Chicken

Directions:

  1. Cover top of chicken with Spicy Strawberry BBQ sauce
  2. Bake covered for 1 hour at 3500
  3. Remove foil and put under the broiler for 10 minutes
  4. Top with red pepper flakes
  5. Serve with extra sauce

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If you've been "playing" with our strawberry spreads, let us know what you created. ...continue reading

Bruce, Rick, Sara, Snickers, Doodle & I all want to say THANK YOU for choosing us as your destination for U Pick strawberries!

Thank you for supporting local farming!

Thank you for being kind to the plants (so they can keep on producing)!

Thank you for keeping our farm and creek clean!

Thank you for spreading the word!

Middle Fork Farm U pick

Middle Fork Farm U PickWe loved meeting so many enthusiastic berry pickers, strawberry spread tasters and picnickers over the Memorial Weekend.   From what you told us, you were busy making a lot of strawberry pies and ice cream once you got home. And, of course, eating good ol’ delicious berries right from the bowl.

Middle Fork Farm berry picking

 

 

It was wonderful to see berry pickers of all ages, including a lot of multi-generational families sharing holiday fun. The toddler set definitely had an advantage due to their proximity to the berries (but probably limited by their attention span).

Middle Fork Farm creek

 

 

After picking, the  creek was a fun place to cool off.  Our creek (Middle Fork of Cunningham Creek) is quite healthy so we heard lots of shrieks and giggles as kids caught (and released) frogs, crayfish, and baby turtles.

 

Snickers and Doodle were much less active than the kids. They greeted a few early pickers and then decided to sleep at the check-out table for the rest of the day—we should have hung a "do not disturb" sign on them.

MiddleForkFarmSnickersNext weekend we’ll be sampling our brand new strawberry spread flavor, Strawberry Merlot (in anticipation of our tasting room/winery opening in 2016).

Weather permitting, we'll be open weekends through the end of June--check Facebook for updates.  We're also available for private pickings for groups of 10 or more on Wed., Thurs., and Fri.

Come see us, taste all our yummy spreads, and pick your own berries.

 

We know you love strawberries -- so we made the assumption that  you might be fascinated by some strawberry trivia.

  • Over 53 percent of seven to nine year olds picked strawberries as their favorite fruit.
  • Eight strawberries will provide 140 percent of the recommended daily intake of Vitamin C for kids.
  • Middle Fork Farm strawberriesOne cup of strawberries is only 55 calories.
  • Strawberries are not true berries because their seeds are on the outside—usually around 200 of them.
  • Strawberries are a member of the genus Fragaria, which is the rose family.
  • Strawberries are grown in every state in the United States and every province of Canada.
  • Native forms of strawberries adapt to various climates and are indigenous to every major continent except Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
  • Seventy per cent of a strawberry's roots are located in the top three inches of soil.
  • Strawberries are the first fruit to ripen in the spring.
  • The Musee de la Fraise is a museum in Belgium just for strawberries.
  • According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the annual per capita consumption of fresh and frozen strawberries is 4.85 pounds (Yours are waiting for you at Middle Fork Farm!)

Middle Fork Farm strawberries

Remember we'll be open for Pick Your Own on Sat. and Sun. through the end of June (maybe longer, if the weather is kind! Check our Facebook page for exact times and weather updates)  If you have a group of 10 or more, you can also schedule a private picking on Wed.,  Thurs., or Fri.  Be sure to get your Berry Lover's Club card---buy 10 get 1 free!

Sources:

http://extension.illinois.edu/strawberries/facts

http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/strawberries.html

http://www.sciencekids.co.nz/sciencefacts/food/strawberries.html

 

 

You’ve already read a lot about our goats and you’ve met Snickers and Doodle, our Australian Shepherds, but lots of people want to know what other critters live on the farm. So, this blog is all about the non-human residents of Middle Fork Farm--horses, a mini-mule, cats, and chickens.

I’ll start with horses and introduce you to our newest barnyard resident, Cunningham (aka Charlie).

MiddleForkFarmAvery&Charlie

Cunningham is a Warmblood colt born on April 15 to my mare, Avery. He’s a big guy and quite rambunctious. We were lucky enough to get to watch his birth, which was really exciting. Avery is doing an amazing job as a first-time mom. She’s super attentive to Charlie, but perfectly happy to allow us in to handle and admire him.

MiddleForkFarmCharlie

 

MiddleForkFarmGracie

 

Avery’s herd-mates include Gracie, Isabelle, and Jackson.   Gracie is a registered Paint without any spots. This is known as a breeding stock horse. She’s a wonderful trail horse and even though she’s the smallest, she’s the alpha mare.

 

 

MiddleForkFarmIsabelle

 

Isabelle, another Warmblood, is my friend, Bennie’s, dressage and trail horse. She and Avery are best buddies and before Charlie, were always together.

 

 

Jackson, our clever and precociousMiddleForkFarmJackson mini-mule has experience as a foal-nanny and can't wait to play with Charlie.  Last fall he discovered a way to escape through the electric fence. After we caught and returned him several times, he decided he didn’t need an escort and as soon as we got close, he’d take off and put himself back in the pasture.

 

Keeping the horses company in the barn are our 5 wonderful barn cats. They are friendly and earn their keep as incredible hunters! Two years ago a neighbor gave us Jewel and her week-old kittens. All are solid grey. Two, Subway and Pepper, went to live with Sara and Rick (really with Laura and Maya), one went to a friend, and other two stayed with us. As they were identical, it seemed only appropriate to name them Darryl and Darryl.

MiddleForkFarmGrayCats

 

MiddleForkFarmLarry

 

 

And, since we had Darryl and Darryl we needed a Larry (see Bob Newhart show). Larry is either trying to roll over on the top fence board or following someone around. He was with us to watch Charlie’s birth!

 

 

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Ty Kitty is our last addition. She was a rescue after Sara’s friend found her stuck in the engine of her car. She was a tiny kitten when we got her and has since grown into a beautiful fluffy cat determined to catch the birds in the rafters of the barn (totally impossible!).

 

 

Twelve laying hens round out the barn. We do love our fresh eggs but have discovered the origin of the expression "dumb cluck."  Recently we added 7 Cochin hens to our flock.  I was warned that this variety likes to "sit" (i.e. sit on eggs and try to hatch them, even if they're not fertile).  It was certainly not an understatement. How many chickens do you see in this box?

MiddleForkFarmCochins

The answer is 3.

If you’ve been following us, you know our goat herd has grown. Most of the kids have moved on to new homes, but we added 7 doelings from this year’s group to our herd. We do have our last 3 bucklings are for sale (for more information contact Sara at 540-540-424-3986).  Two of the bucklings (now wethers i.e. neutered males) are 4-H market projects and will be for sale at the Fluvanna Fair in August. Quizno, our buck, will be with us through this year’s breeding season.

MiddleForkFarmDoelings

Snickers and Doodle haven’t gotten into any trouble for awhile, although Doodle did present us with a dead raccoon this week—it is the beginning of raccoon and possum hunting season for Snickers and Doodle (mostly Doodle). They had their spring buzz-cut and, as you can see, look like puppies with big feet.

MiddleForkFarmAussies

Strawberry News

The berry fields are looking quite white with blooms. We will be opening for Pick Your Own on Sat. May 23 and continue to be open on Sat. and Sun. through June (maybe even July, depending on the weather).  Exact dates and times will be posted on our Facebook page. If you have a group of 10 or more, we will schedule a special private picking for you during the week.

Please come visit us, pick some berries, meet Snickers and Doodle, and enjoy a picnic by the creek.

MiddleForkFarmBerries

 

It's Chinese New Year and guess what?    It's the year of the goat!  We suspect our goats are secretly celebrating late at night after the rest of us are tucked in (our warm beds).  Of course, all the evidence is gone in the morning.

Thanks to Cousin Ed for forwarding this article on the new Chinese Lunar Year.  Be sure to check out all the cute goat pictures, as well as what life during the year of the goat means for you.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/31535477

IMG_8826These triplets are nearing 40 lbs at 2 months!

 

It snowed—hooray! I know not everyone shares my excitement, and I wouldn’t want to be living in Boston with 95” of snow, but it’s really beautiful! First thing in the morning it’s so pristine and quiet.   It just seems like for those few minutes, the world is a calm and peaceful place and I love it (so do Snickers and Doodle)!

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The strawberry rows and vineyard looked lovely covered in snow for one last sleep before spring. They are both in a dormant state so the snow will not be harmful.

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Rick, however,  was planning to start pruning vines this week but looks like he'll have to delay a bit.

 

The kids weren’t too sure what to make of the strange white stuff on the ground and the does weren’t leading the way. They all came out of the barn to soak up the sun but only a couple brave kids ventured out to investigate.

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So, this blog isn’t really about snow but it had to be mentioned. It’s about the Valentine Wine Tasting/Strawberry Spread Sampling event last Friday at the Jefferson Pharmacy . We visited with neighbors, including Leslie and George from Thistle Gate Winery and made some new friends.

Sara, Beth, and I had a lot of fun preparing and sharing a couple of new Middle Fork Farm strawberry spread recipes.   We served our old favorite, a melted Brie with Strawberry-Balsamic Spread, and introduced two new dessert recipes: mini no-cook cheesecakes topped with Strawberry-Lavender Spread, and mini “pop-tarts” filled with Strawberry-Vanilla Spread.

Both are simple yet scrumptious recipes. Of course, the strawberry spread flavors can be switched around depending on your favorite or what you have on-hand.

No-Cook Mini Cheesecakes with Strawberry Topping
Makes 30

Ingredients:
4 oz. cream cheese, softened FullSizeRender
½ c. sour cream
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
Middle Fork Farm Strawberry-Lavender Spread
2 packages mini phyllo dough crusts (you can use directly from the freezer or crisp them in the oven at 350 ˚F for 3-4 minutes. Cool before filling.)

Directions: 

  1. Beat cream cheese, sour cream, sugar, and vanilla in a small bowl; refrigerate 30 minutes.
  2. Spoon cream cheese mixture into phyllo cups.
  3. Add 1 tsp. Middle Fork Farm Strawberry-Lavender Spread to each cup.
  4. Enjoy!

The pop-tarts were really Sara and Beth’s creation, kid-tested by Sara’s daughters, Laura and Maya. Their idea was to come up with something easy for an after school snack. We made a mini size for sampling purposes but they could be made any size depending on how you cut the dough.

Mini “Pop-Tarts” with Strawberry Filling

Ingredients:
1 package refrigerated pie crusts, brought to room temperature IMG_8856
Middle Fork Farm Strawberry-Vanilla Spread
Sprinkles (PINK was preferred by the 6 and 9-year old set)
Powdered Sugar Glaze (whisk together 1/2 c. powdered sugar and 1-1/2 tsp. milk)

Directions:

  1. Roll each pie crust to 1/8 in. thin on a lightly floured surface.
  2. Cut the crust into rectangles, approximately 3in. x 1in.
  3. Place a small spoonful (about 1/4 tsp.) of Strawberry-Vanilla Spread on the bottom half of each rectangle.
  4. With your finger, wet the outside edge of each rectangle and fold in half, pressing edges together and sealing the spread inside.
  5. Bake at 375 ˚F for 10 minutes.
  6. Before they cool, drizzle your powdered sugar glaze over each piece and immediately sprinkle with your favorite (PINK) sprinkles!

Let us know if you like our strawberry spread desserts  and send us your dessert ideas to share.

Well, I didn’t meet my goal for writing blogs in 2014, but it’s a new year with new hope and (more realistic) ambition -- one blog per month. So, here’s my January blog…

Wrapping up 2014

Goats: If you’ve been following our FB page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Middle-Fork-Farm/540326095986621), you already know we have 21 adorable, rambunctious goat kids -- 12 girls and 9 boys. They were all born in a very busy six-day period from December 9 - 14. The does gave birth so quickly that Bruce and Rick had to convert our 4 spacious birthing stalls into 6 less spacious birthing stalls to accommodate all the new moms and kids.

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With lots of family help, Sara and I tagged, vaccinated, weighed, and photographed all the kids when they were one week old. There was lots of chasing, laughing, and squealing by humans and kids alike (and occasional barking from Snickers and Doodle while barn cats, Jewel and Larry, came by periodically to make sure we were on task). We weighed the kids again this past weekend and they are growing fast—approximately ½ lb per day!

P1070610 We decided that we should pick a naming theme for each set of kids to help us keep track of each generation (we only name the does as the bucklings will be sold). Laura was captivated last year when she studied Greek gods and goddesses (Percy Jackson helped, too), so we decided to go with a Greek theme for this year. Not all the doelings are named but so far we’ve got Hera, Hestia, Aphrodite (of course), Artemis and Demeter.

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Vines and Wines: Rick and crew were busy in the fall winterizing the vineyard. This involved two key tasks: winterizing pipes and irrigation lines and “hilling” the vines. Hilling is just what it sounds like—making hills around each vine. This protects the grafted wood from freezing. As you might imagine, this can be a very labor-intensive process if done by hand. So, in typical Rick style he researched “hillers” and designed and built—yes, built —an attachment for our tractor to make the task more efficient. Yeah, Rick!!

IMG_2554Bruce has also been hard at work making our first vintages of red wine with guidance from his mentor, Matthieu Finot, winemaker at King Family Vineyards. These will be our reds when we IMG_2621open our winery/tasting room in Spring 2016! We had lots of help from family and friends in the fall sorting and processing the grapes before they could be made into wine.

We now have four varieties of red wine ageing in barrels. From these, Bruce plans to make two pure varietal wines and one red blend wine. Three of the four varieties have been “topped off” (in lay terms, the barrels were filled with wine so there’s no room for air) and will rest for a year. The fourth barrel still has to finish its 2nd fermentation.

In late fall, we began working with architect, Susannah Marshall, on the winery/tasting room/farm store design. We’ve picked a picturesque site between the vineyard and the woods and plan to start construction in the spring.

Strawberries and Spreads: The strawberries, like the vines, have been winterized. It’s a longer IMG_8568process because they go dormant much slower than the vines and not only does the foliage have to be trimmed but the wounds from the pruning have to heal before we can put them to sleep for the winter with a cover of hay.

We hope you’ve tasted our Strawberry Balsamic, Strawberry Lavender, and Strawberry Vanilla Spreads. They are available around town at Foods of all Nations, Great Harvest Bread, Jefferson Pharmacy, Michie Tavern, Salt Artisan Market, The Inn at Monticello, and The Bakery in Farmville. We also have 9 oz. jars available at the farm, but we are sold out of Samplers (note to self—make more Samplers in 2015!).

photo 1We received approval from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs (VDACS) for our new flavors, Spicy Strawberry Spread and Ginger Lover’s Peach. They will be available through the farm and local stores in 2015. I am working on a new strawberry flavor (can’t disclose the flavor yet) and will write more after I finish experimenting with the recipe. Our farm kitchen now has VDACS approval so in the future we will make our spreads both at the farm and The Prince Edward Cannery. All of our spreads qualify for the VA Finest designation.

Last word on strawberry spreads…we are thrilled to be listed as an Edible Pick in the Artisan IMG_8569Issue (winter 2015) of Edible Blue Ridge!

A glimpse of what’s coming in 2015…

  • Prune the vines, then “de-hill” them
  • Uncover the berries
  • Plant more Merlot vines
  • Plant more strawberries
  • Wean the kids
  • Breed the yearling does
  • Start construction on the winery/tasting room/farm store
  • Open for Pick Your Own Strawberries starting late May/early June

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We had this amazing moment two springs ago when we realized we had transitioned from Middle Fork Farm to Middle Fork Farm and Vineyard.   Now, we are one step closer to becoming not just a farm and vineyard but also a winery!

It takes three years for vines to produce a healthy harvest and 15-18 months of barrel aging to make a good red wine. As our first vines were planted in 2012 and our goal is to open our tasting room in the spring of 2016, we had a challenge. The solution was to buy grapes—Petit Verdot, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, and contract for custom crush at King Family Vineyards in Crozet. At King Family, Bruce is working with expert winemaker, Matthieu Finot, to make a Bordeaux blend as well as individual varietals.

A couple of weeks ago, equipped with lugs, needle nose snippers, and gloves Rick, Bruce and our crew got their first picking experience. With the help of the vineyard owners, they harvested about 700 lbs of grapes.   They opted to sort as they picked so it took about 3 hours.

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Bruce compared it to taking ornaments off a Christmas tree—there’s always one more ornament/cluster hidden among the branches. He also noted that it is definitely not unskilled labor as you have to be able to distinguish between ripe, not yet ripe, and rotten fruit while lifting the bird netting and moving down the row at a reasonable pace.IMG_2474

To begin, you grab a cluster and check for ripeness and a deep color (not green). Ripe healthy grapes are snipped at the top of the cluster and dropped in a lug. Grapes that are rotten, not yet ripe, or pierced (in this case by wasps) are rejected and either left on the vine or thrown on the ground.   The lug is kicked forward until full, somewhere between 20-30 lbs, and a new lug is started.   Full lugs are left for later and stacked in the pickup truck to make the trip to the winery, where they get sorted again.

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We also purchased grapes from California due to the grape shortage in Virginia. The Merlot and Cabernet Franc arrived last week and Bruce, Rick, daughter Beth, friend Nancy, and I sorted. If I had to pick one word to describe the experience, it would be sticky!

Matthieu, Bruce, and Rick set up the equipment and we went to work.

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Bruce unloaded the fruit, Nancy and I sorted for leaves and sticks (except when I was taking photos).  Initially the sorting table was going a bit fast for our novice hands so Bruce slowed it down. But then Matthieu came by and sped it up—oh no! Nancy and I both remembered Lucy and Ethyl at the chocolate factory and felt their pain. If you haven’t seen this episode of I Love Lucy, it’s a lot of fun. Check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NPzLBSBzPI.

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Next, it went by a conveyer belt to the destemmer, which shot the stems into a bin and the fruit fell out the bottom to a vibrating table.

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Beth and Rick worked the vibrating table, removing  any stems and nub grapes left by the destemmer.

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The clean grapes traveled by another conveyor belt to a bin where they'll ferment and become wine.

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We've got more picking and sorting to do.  Next time we sort, we know to wear long sleeves, pants, and comfortable closed shoes—grape juice has a way of getting everywhere!

The next day, Bruce and Beth bottled the strawberry wine.  Bruce added a wine tannin so it's a dry fruit wine and quite tasty!

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