What an amazing Summer we had. A good mixture of temperatures, a great mix of sun and rain and a few days just hot enough to perk up the vines. Unfortunately, this Summer has flown by and we are quickly greeted by Fall! While Fall is not my favorite time of year I sure do enjoy watching the leaves change colors. Since Fall usually keeps me hopping around the vineyard and cellar, I don’t really get the chance to enjoy the season, so when I finally do have a few minutes to relax I just love to see what Mother Nature has painted in the trees each year. Sure, most people are not happy about raking the leaves every year but they are so important to the winery that I don’t mind the clean-up.
Leaves from the grapevine are very important to a great harvest. As with most leaves, grape leaves go through the photosynthesis process but what’s unique about this process is it also helps convert the starches in the vine to sugar which help ripen the grapes. If grape vines did not have leaves the grapes would never ripen.
Another important reason for the leaves on a grapevine is to help viticulturists identify the grape variety. Just as an oak leaf is different than a maple leaf, the leaves you see on a Cabernet Sauvignon vine look different than the leaf from a Concord vine. Viticulturists can study a leaf to determine the health of the vine, the amount of water a vine is getting and how well the grape clusters are doing.
Finally, one of my favorite reasons for grape leaves is, of course, serving stuffed grape leaves. Usually I make stuffed grape leaves early in the season so the leaves are tenderer but there have been times that I’ll have stuffed grape leaves later in the season. This Lebanese recipe from a friend of mine is perfect treat after putting in a good day’s work in the vineyard.
16 ounces grape leaves
2 1/4 lbs ground lamb
2 1/4 cups long grain white rice
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
12 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon mint
Place rice in a medium sized bowl and cover with 3 cups of cold water. Let stand for 30-60 minutes. Drain and rinse grape leaves in a colander. Cut leaves in half removing the thick center stem. Save five or six large leaves for bottom of pan- discard any extremely tough or ragged leaves. Drain all water from rice. Add lamb, salt, pepper, and cinnamon. Mix by hand thoroughly. Line bottom of large kettle or dutch oven with five or six large leaves to prevent scorching. Lay a leaf flat on a plate, shiny side down. Put approximately 1 heaping teaspoon of meat mixture towards bottom of leaf. Roll in one edge to seal, then roll leaf up firmly but not too tight (you need to leave a little room for the rice to expand while cooking). Place leaves in kettle in circular fashion leaving a small circle in the center for water to circulate. When you have one full row on bottom of pan, slice two cloves of garlic over the top of the leaves. Sprinkle with a little of the mint.
Continue rolling the leaves and layering them with the garlic/ mint. You should have approximately five rows of leaves when you are done. Place a heatproof plate over the top of the leaves- large enough to hold them in place, but with a little room on the edges. Put a bowl on top of the plate filled with water to hold the plate down while cooking. Fill kettle with water over the top of the plate. Cook on top of stove on high heat until it begins to boil. Lower heat to medium so that water does not boil over and continue cooking. Total cooking time after it starts to boil is 16-19 minutes. Remove bowl. Carefully drain water from kettle. Remove plate. Arrange leaves on a platter.
Amanda is the Co-Owner of Candlelight Winery located at 11325 Center Road, Garrettsville. For more information on other winery topics, please visit www.candlelightwinery.com