Ever wonder how a winemaker decides when to take the grapes off the vine? Too soon, and the grapes may not have ripened. Too late, and they’ve lost their acidity and much of their character. And it’s not quite that simple, either, because he or she has the option of harvesting in batches, or purchasing from multiple source vineyards.
While many scientific advances have given winemakers and vineyard managers more information to work with, such as the ability to test sugar and acid levels, this information remains only guidelines. Winemakers must gather the grapes that will fulfil their vision, while listening to the grapes themselves to make the wine that best represents that year.
Winemaker of Vinos Frios Alejandro Jofre explains his process:
Every winemaker has his or hers methodology when approaching harvest, exciting but also a bit stressful time of the year, I like to pick early, focusing on freshness, high acid and lower alcohol wines that focuses on the quality of the grape and freshness. Low intervention safeguarding the quality of the fermented juice.
Traditionally, skilled pickers went from vineyard to vineyard during harvest to select and remove grapes by hand. Many winemakers still prefer this method. However, hiring an entire team, often multiple times each harvest, may exceed a winery’s budget, so technology exists to safely and accurately remove grapes from the vine.
Still, nothing beats a seasoned picker when it comes to identifying which bunches of grapes should come off the vine, and which need to hang a bit more time. Hand- on winemakers will often comunícate closely with these teams to ensure they know what the winemaker expects from the harvest.
Another key factor to consider when harvesting is the time of day. Generally, winemakers want the grapes off the vines and into the winery for crushing while they are still cool. Picking often occurs in the early morning or late evening to ensure freshness.
Picking may seem like a simple step in a long line of more complicated ones, but it’s crucial to a wine’s quality and character. Just a few rotten or moldy grapes can turn a whole batch, and grapes picked at the wrong time won’t have the attributes the winemaker wanted. Luckily, winemakers, vineyard managers, and pickers can combine their experience and skills with the knowledge that’s now more readily shared throughout the winemaking world. This means more great grapes make it off the vine to become the wine you pour in your glass!