Hurray! It’s grape harvest season. One of the most imperative processes in the manufacture of wine. The growling Engines of tractors loaded with violet and golden grape clusters moving to and from the fields while the atmosphere is filled with laughter from the harvesters and the vine-growers. On the other hand, there is a lot of excitement and anticipation towards festivals and events all tailored towards the annual grape harvest.
So, when is the grape harvest time?
Grapevine is a perfect example of a perennial plant; one that blooms over the spring and summer and dies during the autumn and winter. In general August, September and October mark the prime harvest season in Europe and North America. South America, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand lying below the equator have their harvesting season from February to April.
How do grape growers know when to harvest?
The best vine growers know the taste of ripeness. By walking down the row tasting grapes, they can know intuitively when to pick
When determining the sweetness levels of the grapes, it is important to know that wine grapes are much sweeter than table grape. It is this sweetness level that determines the alcohol level.
Grapes contain high levels of sucrose which is measured in Brix. A Hydrometer measures Brix, and vineyard managers will occasionally check these levels to determine the appropriate time to harvest. However, a grape can be sweet but not ripe enough. The grape is considered ripe if the skin, stem, and seeds are also ripe. The seeds of a ripe grape are less bitter and will have a yellowish color. These changes are what makes the wine tannin taste sweeter.
The Harvesting Process
The grapes can either be handpicked or use machine harvesting to get the fruit off the vines. One interesting aspect is that grapes are harvested at night. Why at night? The answer is very simple, the cool temperatures at night provide better fermentation condition which is necessary for obtaining the fruit with stable sugar levels.
Temperatures are high during the day, usually 30 degree Celsius or more. Such high temperatures can change the sugar composition of the fruit which will eventually affect the wine quality.
1. Manual harvesting
A group of skilled farmers goes to the vineyard and picks the grapes bunch by bunch using their hands. They use secateurs to cut off the bunch while putting them in a basket. When they have accumulated, they are put into bigger containers and transported to the winery for processing.
The main advantage of manual harvesting is that the pickers can make a major selection in the vineyard like picking only the ripe grape while avoiding the rotten grapes. However, the process is slow and tiring.
2. Mechanical harvesting
Harvesting with a machine means you need a tractor mounted with a harvesting unit. With diligence, the tractor straddles the row of vines and shakes off the vine to release the grapes on a strategically positioned conveyor to collect the bellies.
Mechanical harvesting is efficient and faster when compared to manual harvesting. The major constraint is that huge capital is needed to buy and maintain the machinery.
Manual or Mechanical harvesting?
Manual harvest can sometimes be better than mechanical harvesting, but the opposite is also true. The decision on which is better depends on what you want to achieve.
Special thank you to the sponsors of this post: San Francisco CA Limo!