Summer in the vineyard is over, the winemakers are preparing the grape harvest. The grapes are harvested and finally begin their journey to become wonderful wines in the cellar.
Oh, if only it were that easy. Especially when harvesting grapes, experience and expertise are required if you don't want to miss out on the fruits of your labor during the final act in the vineyard. And the right timing.
Generally, the grape harvest takes place in September and October. But even this rough scheduling can no longer be relied upon. In 2018, for example, with the dry and hot summer, the grape harvest sometimes started in August.
Looking for the optimal reading time
When is the right time to harvest the grapes, each winemaker decides on a daily basis based on his quality standards.
The quality of a wine is essentially based on the quality of the grapes. It is important to pay attention to the grapes themselves. That's why the winemakers measure the sugar and acid levels early and regularly and taste the berries in order to be able to assess the aromatic development.
At some point the grapes will be ripe enough to be harvested. From now on the winemaker is making a bet with the weather. Should he postpone the harvest to give the vines even more sun? But risk the rain literally watering down his wine? Or do the grapes absolutely have to be harvested because more sun leads to more sugar and therefore more alcohol and the acidity may disappear again?
In southern wine regions with hot summers, the acid value is often the decisive criterion. The grape variety, location and type of wine also play a role.
Wineries that cultivate multiple grape varieties must take all of these characteristics into account. And to make it even more complicated, of course the location of the vineyards also has a say. The orientation towards the sun, the altitude, but also the wind... All of these factors create a microclimate that allows the grapes to ripen faster or slower there than in the vineyard next door.
Full harvester or entirely manual work during the grape harvest
Experienced helpers are indispensable during the grape harvest if the winemaker does not work with a harvester.
In principle, there is nothing wrong with using a modern harvesting machine. The grapes are shaken off by hitting the canopy, collected by conveyor belts and transported to a collection container. And this makes the machine many times faster than the manual reading aid with scissors or knives. In addition, the machine can work for longer periods of time and is always available.
A clear advantage of manual harvesting is the selection made during cutting. While the machine harvests “blindly”, the harvest assistant can sort out bad grapes directly or simply leave unripe grapes hanging. The proportion of leaves and stems is also significantly lower. Manual harvesting makes the so-called “selection” possible. This means that several harvests are carried out in the vineyard in order to always harvest only the best grapes.
Keep Cool: Handle the reading material carefully
To ensure that the grapes reach the cellar intact, care and caution are required at all times. For example, the transport containers should be as flat as possible and not too large so that the grapes do not press down under their own weight. Once the juice comes out of the berry, it begins to oxidize and thus lose its taste.
The careful handling of the grapes requires that the harvest not take place at temperatures that are too high. So either early in the morning, late afternoon or in hot wine-growing regions even at night.
When you arrive at the winery, the vine material is selected again by hand, especially for top wines, before it goes into the cellar and the must waits in tanks or barrels for alcoholic fermentation. This is the end of the harvest, but the great wine adventure is just beginning.
From now on it is the cellar master and oenologist who say where to go!!
So that the grapes become a top wine. Sante!