WESTFIELD, N.Y. — Attention wine enthusiasts: the next crop of grapes is currently being picked across Western New York, as the harvest season gets underway.

What You Need To Know

  • Grape harvest season is underway
  • Johnson Estate Winery will pick 13 different varieties of grapes
  • COVID-19 has had little impact outside, but forced changes inside the winery

Fred Johnson enjoys the fruits of his labor, as a third generation grape grower, and owner of Johnson Estate Winery in Westfield.

Fred's grandfather purchased the farm in 1908 where he planted apple, cherry, and peach orchards, as well as concord vineyards.

"To this day when I eat Niagara grapes, my long-term memory brings me back to my grandparent's back porch and the baskets of grapes they would have there," said Johnson.

After his grandfather's passing, Fred's dad purchased the fruit farm and was the first in Western New York to plant wine grapes in a region dominated by juice grapes.

Fred was out Monday, checking Seyval Blanc grapes and tasting them for ripeness.

"It makes a light white wine much like Savignon Blanc," said Johnson.

Crews picked 35 to 40 tons of Seyval grapes, just one of 13 different varieties Johnson grows on the estate.

Once all the varieties are picked for the season, crews will go back and start maintaining and trimming the vineyards in early November.

"Which I've got five or six people on the farm all winter long, snip, snip, snipping away at the grapes," said Johnson.

From the field, it was back to the tasting room, where the grapes are placed in the metal hopper out back and then pressed. 

"They go through a big magnet to pick out any bits of metal that somehow might have gotten in there. Stems are taken off. They're crushed and then they're pumped inside this press, where they're squeezed," said Johnson.

Fred says work on the farm continued through the pandemic, and had little impact on the vines, as the state's agricultural industry was exempt from closing.

And while sales to retailers and restaurants were down, online and carry-out business sales soared, coupled with several changes inside the winery. 

"There's a lot of juggling and moving pieces, and masks and regulations. And parts of your business going way down and parts of your business going way up," said Johnson.

The picker is expected to harvest again Thursday.