Ever Wondered How Grapes Are Harvested?
Posted on 12 October 2021
For most people, wine is simply a drink. Something that can quench their thirst in a tasty way at the end of the day or with friends and family over dinner. Those of us who have a passion for wine, however, see it as much more. Wine is also a product of years’ worth of hard graft in the vineyards by generations of farmers continuously passing down their secrets over the centuries. The culmination of the work in the fields is the annual grape harvest; the toughest, most grueling, but also a most rewarding part of the year for wine producers the world over.
Picking the Perfect Time
Picking the perfect time to harvest the grapes is key. Grapes, like any other fruit, have to mature to ripeness before picking from the vine. Pick too early and you’ll get a highly acidic wine with little flavor or body. Pick too late and you’ll get heady alcohol and not enough freshness. Picking the date of the harvest is arguably THE crucial step of the grape harvest. Many regions will have a legal start day, but from there it’s up to the respective grape growers to choose what day to begin. You want the perfect measure of ripeness and recent weather. Grape farmers will use a mixture of gizmos and gadgets such as a refractometer to test accumulated sugar levels, but also experience and judgment, to pick the perfect ripeness point to get the grapes off the vines and into the cellar.
Picking the Perfect Team
Harvesting grapes is an arduous task. Recent technology means that mechanical harvesting is an increasingly high-quality option, and those of you wondering how grape harvesters work, you just need to think of very tall tractors with plastic paddles knocking the fruit off the vine and into the trailer. If your grapes are for the highest quality wines, however, or planted on areas not suitable for tractors, you need to get your team of grape growers at the ready! This is tough, back-arching, manual work. As much as the teamwork element adds to the buoyed atmosphere and culture, there is no time to mess around. These grapes are that farmer’s livelihood, and they need to be respected at harvest time. Employing seasonal workers adds to the costs for the grape grower or winemaker. If you’re lucky you need only employ them for a short time, but a lot depends on where you’re based and which grapes you have planted. Each grape variety has different ripening speeds and timing, and this can mean harvesting teams can often be waiting around for a long time. In Piemonte, for example, it is now commonplace to harvest Moscato grapes in August, with Nebbiolo not brought in till late October (sometimes even November), roughly three months’ worth of harvesting!
Picking the Perfect Equipment
Once the grapes are picked, it’s very important to handle them with care. Few harvests would even get off the ground with a decent pair of secateurs and trusty bucket, but after that, it’s all about the transport to the winery and the reception when the grapes arrive to be pressed into juice, and then sent for fermentation. A big issue is the threat of spoilage on the journey from the vine to the cellar. Many different technologies and standards have been introduced to prevent grapes from being unduly crushed or split too early, inviting the dreaded oxidation that will colour the juice (think of the colour of sliced apple) and dampen those lovely flavours. This can be anything from chilled transport tanks, all the way to digital sorting tables that will inspect every single last grape that enters the winery…albeit only for the top quality, premium producers who can afford it! But once the wine is safely in the cellar, fermenting away gently in the vats or barrels, it’s time to have that celebratory glass of something nice to toast another year’s job well done.
Wines To Celebrate The Wine Harvest
1. Barbaresco DOCG by Produttori del Barbaresco (Italian Red Wine)
2. Chianti Classico Ama 2019 by Castello di Ama (Italian Red Wine)
3. Nero d'Avola-Perricone Giato Rosso by Centopassi (Case of 6 - Italian Red Wine - Organic)