Anxious Time at Harvest


To say harvest is the most hectic time at wineries is an understatement.  The steps preceding the time when pickers pass through rows of vines to pluck the rich fruit are fraught with drama. The grapes are carefully judged since picking too early or too late changes the complexity of the juice. So how do the vineyard manager and the winemaker (sometimes the same person depending the size of the winery) discern the optimum moment in preparation for sending workers to the vineyards to pick?  Everything is ready. The fermentation tanks have been cleaned. The winery is spotless. Teams of workers are ready to go loading hand or machine picked grapes for delivery to the winery..

The wait is harrowing because all goes well when the skies are blue. Timing for harvest can be accelerated by bird and insect attacks that also damage the fragile grapes. Dark clouds are a harbinger of trouble. Rain dilutes the juice and hail damages the fruit, spoiling the vintage.  Rain is more worrisome in regions that have frequent bouts of inclement weather like Bordeaux. Not long ago I was in Bordeaux during harvest when winemakers across the region checked the weather station and watched clouds darken the skies. Anxiety filled the air as winemakers decided whether to pick or hazard a few more days of ripening. Either way was a gamble.

A number of factors tell winemakers when to make the call to pick. The taste of juice is crucial. Additional indicators include a hand-held device called a refractometer that measures brix, the amount of sugar in the grapes. Brix is key since sugar changes to alcohol during fermentation.Two other crucial signs of the berries’ maturity include skin and leaf color and the change of color of seeds from green to dark brown.




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