At 5 years old, Finnegan LaMotte is a veteran grape-picker.
He and his younger brother, Lachlan, and parents Brianna and Dan, all of WaKeeney, joined a handful of other volunteers at Shiloh Vineyard and Winery in Trego County to harvest the fruit off the vine Saturday morning.
It was Finnegan’s second time for a grape harvest. He and Lachlan reached deep into the vines above their heads, looking for the small clusters of the dark Norton grapes, slicing through the stems with a small tool and dropping them in their 5-gallon buckets before moving on to the next vine.
Brianna maintains the vineyard’s social media and website, so the boys are familiar with the place, owned by Kirk and Treva Johnson.
“They like to come out and see the chickens and all the animals,” Brianna said.
It wasn’t Shawna Koehn’s first visit to the vineyard, but it was her first time harvesting. She was joined by her daughter, Avery, 12.
“It’s pretty much what I expected as far as picking,” she said. “The grapes, I didn’t know what they were going to taste like. The grapes don’t taste like I expected.”
The Johnsons started their vineyards about eight years ago and started selling wine five years ago, Kirk Johnson said. It takes about three years for a new vine to produce grapes.
When they started, they planted about 2,000 vines, but have replaced at least half of those over the years as they discover which varieties grow well in the plains of western Kansas, Treva said.
“The Vidals have been a good grape, but they’re not a good vine for here,” she said.
“It’s been a learning process. We didn’t have any idea what vines to plant, but we’re getting there,” she said.
They’ve been planting more winter-hardy varieties.
“There’s no way we could plant a vine like they have in California. That’s like a 7-8,” Treva said, referring to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s plant hardiness zones.
“We’re going to more of a 3-4 zone grape because of the winters,” she said.
Animals and pests can also present hazards to growing grapes, and the couple puts netting over the vines.
“Birds will just eat you raw. They’d eat these things in a couple days,” David Heskett, Quinter, said as he removed the netting so volunteers could get to the grapes.
Heskett, a chiropractor, has been helping out at the vineyard and has his own winery at his home as well.
It took about two and half hours for the volunteers to pick between 250 and 300 pounds of grapes, Kirk estimated. Afterwards, the Johnsons provided a lunch of grilled hamburgers and hot dogs and a bottle of wine for the volunteers to take home.