With picking in full swing from August to October across Europe and North America, The Wine Edit explores that exciting season when grapes make their journey from the vineyard into the winery.
There's a special moment that happens in a vineyard when the grapes start to change colour. They turn from hard and green berries into lush and juicy fruit, with their skins morphing into vivid shades of reds and blacks, yellows and greens.
It marks the beginning of ripening and the march towards harvest, when farmers will pick the grapes and winemakers will perform the magic that turns a humble fruit into a luxurious drink.
In the weeks leading up to harvest, grapes will swell to twice their previous size as vines move sugars into the pulp. In the wild, this would attract animals to eat the berries and spread the seeds but, in the vineyard, it’s the farmer who’s eyeing the fruit. Judging ripeness is part science, part art. Growers measure the grapes’ sugar concentration because it’s the sugars that become alcohol to produce wine.
It’s not all about sugar though; acidity is also assessed to help bring freshness to the finished wine. While gadgets help measure sugars and acids, winemakers and farmers still walk between the vines and taste the grapes, spotting the development of the natural components in the fruit that will become the various aromas and flavours in the glass..
Different winemakers want different levels of ripeness. Trevor Durling at Beaulieu Vineyard and Mark Beringer at his family’s eponymous winery, Beringer, will accumulate more sugars in their Cabernet Sauvignon from California’s Napa Valley than many of their European counterparts to produce richer wines.
Once farmers decide it’s time to pick, the harvest can begin; large, flat areas are harvested using machines, while steep hills require harvesting by hand. For the highest quality wines, many farmers and winemakers prefer to harvest by hand so they can pick the healthiest and ripest grapes to make the finest wines. Some will even pick at night to keep grapes cool until they reach the winery.
Harvest happens at different times according to the vineyard’s location. Federico Cerelli, the chief winemaker at Cavaliere d’Oro, will harvest at various times in Puglia and Sicily in the south of Italy to Tuscany and Veneto in the north, while Sebastien Long at France’s Maison de Grand Esprit will oversee picking at varying rates in Bordeaux and Burgundy to Provence and the Rhône.
While harvest dates and ripeness levels may vary from vineyard to vineyard, farmers across the Northern Hemisphere mostly agree on the ideal harvest conditions. Even if they’ve welcomed rain during ripening to help swell their grapes, they’ll want dry conditions during harvest to allow their pickers or machines to harvest their crop efficiently before the weather turns cooler and wetter.
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