Each year as the grapes ripen and vintage rolls around, we are working hard towards the pinnacle of our year – harvest time! When and how to harvest our fruit requires careful planning. Choosing between machine harvesting or hand picking ultimately boils down to several factors; vineyard location, vine block accessibility, cost, intended wine style and, the preferences of the winemaker.
Machine Harvesters move along vineyard rows and shake ripe berries from their stems with the help of long rubber or fiberglass rods… and, wow, have they come a long way in the last ten years! Whilst they still resemble some kind of sci-fi grazing war of the worlds machine, they come with a long list of advantages. Machine harvesters can operate 24 hours a day without a break, they can be scheduled to in the cool of the night when the grapes are at their freshest. They are quick, typically harvesting a hectare in approximately 3 hours. However, two of the main downsides of machine harvesting are that the individual berries are physically pulled off their stalks and often split. This can immediately kick start fermentation in the harvesting bin when the juice comes into contact with the wild yeast on the outside of the berries. Also, oxidation will start to affect the juice and berries immediately they are picked. In addition, the harvester can occasionally cause mechanical damage to the vines and trellis and requires a skilled operator to avoid this happening. However, financially, for large vineyard blocks, mechanical harvesting is far quicker and cheaper for the grower compared to hand picking.
Hand Picking – the alternative to machine harvesting, requires a team of hand pickers to come to the vineyard in the cool, early hours of the morning. Larger vineyard would typically require 20-30 pickers to remove all of the fruit – which may take up to 6-hours. It is very labour intensive, uncomfortable, expensive and slower method of harvesting grapes – however, there are some key advantages over machine harvesting. Hand harvesting is much more gentle on the fruit, especially when picking fragile grape varieties such as Pinot Noir. The bunches are picked intact and undamaged. Certain styles of wine benefit from whole bunch pressing at the winery. Hand picking also allows the picker to individually select healthy fruit bunches– leaving rotten or un-ripe bunches behind.
So, which method do we use? Both!!
Our Nebbiolo for example is always hand-picked since the block is to small and uneconomical to pick with a machine harvester. Whereas our larger block varieties such as our Shiraz, Cab Sav, Tempranillo, Pinot Gris are all machine harvested. Our Chardonnay we both hand-pick and machine harvest. This year (our 2022 vintage) we hand-picked our Chardonnay for our 2022 Blanc de Blanc. As for our smaller Muscat block, we sometimes hand pick and sometimes machine pick. This mainly depends if we have a harvester onsite picking other varieties and the economics make sense to additionally pick the Muscat whilst the machine is onsite.
Whichever harvesting method we use, trust us when we say we take the quality of our wine very seriously and the method of harvesting is just one of a number of factors we consider in order to produce the very best bottle of Lentedal wine!