written by Thor Erickson | photography by Charlotte Dupont
My dad woke me up at 5 a.m. He and I had slept on the floor of our ’71 Dodge van—my three sisters had gotten the royal treatment and slept on the seats. Hitched to the back of the van was a 5-yard grape gondola that we had picked up the night before. After a quick breakfast of day-old pastries and oranges, my dad handed out gloves and curved bladed knives. The sun was already warm and getting warmer on the mid-August morning. We were picking grapes. My family owned a (very) small winery, and every year made the journey to pick the grapes, which we would later crush and press, yielding the juice that would become wine. If we filled the gondola by lunchtime, a picnic under a shady tree would be the reward.
I very quickly began picking grapes, placing each plump bunch into a green pickle bucket. I filled my first 5-gallon bucket and dumped it carefully into the gondola. The emptiness of the big trailer was expansive. It seemed as if we would never fill it. After my third bucket was dumped in, I stopped looking and just kept picking grapes and dumping them in. My sisters were working at a much slower pace and seemed to be complaining a lot. Soon a group of “professional” grape pickers was around us, picking grapes for another winery. “We’ll never get that picnic,” I said to myself. My 11-year-old hands started moving more quickly.
I began running to the gondola, my bucket brimming with grapes. I soon needed to travel farther into the vineyard to get grapes, making my travel time to the trailer even longer. My neck and ears were becoming sunburned. This was not what I had signed up for. As the day moved on, I kept working and soon lost track of time. My dad called to me as I dumped a bucket of grapes into the seemingly full gondola. “Come and have lunch,” he yelled. I stopped and joined my sisters, who looked as if they had already been enjoying lunch for a while. While enjoying the picnic, I pondered the trailer full of grapes and what they would become.
SERVES 8 PEOPLE
2 large bunch red seedless grapes
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
8 sprigs fresh thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
Zest of one lemon
2 pounds wild Columbia River King Salmon, divided into four 8-ounce pieces
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place grapes on a baking tray and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Roast grapes for 15 to 20 minutes or until softened and beginning to caramelize. Remove from heat and set aside. Season salmon with salt and pepper. Add remaining olive oil to a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. When oil is hot but not smoking, add salmon and cook for about 3 to 4 minutes on each side. The salmon is perfect when the internal temperature reaches 135 degrees. Transfer salmon to plates and top with roasted grapes. Garnish with fresh thyme leaves and fresh grated lemon zest.