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Last preparations for the 2014 harvest

The harvest marks the end of a long year's work for the winemaker and is a crucial time for making decisions that will influence the quality and taste of the future wine. You've therefore got to be prepared, and with just a few days to go before the start of the harvest at some of our partner wineries, here are a few of the things that are keeping the winemakers busy!
The grapes are maturing in the Rhone Valley


Come July and August, the winemaker has usually finished the bulk of the work in the vineyard, and it is one of the rare times when a few well earned days holiday can be taken. During this time the grapes slowly mature, without the need for human intervention. The winemaker has always one eye to the sky though, hoping that the weather remains good until the harvest has finished! With the mixed summer that we've had in France this year, it hasn't always been the case, and some additional treatments have been necessary because of the rain, notably in Bordeaux and Burgundy.

The wineries are a hive of activity at the moment to get ready for the harvest. The teams of harvesters need to be recruited for the vineyards that will be manually harvested and the harvesting machines reserved for the others. Recruiting is not always an easy task as the winemakers are looking for people that are available for the whole harvest period, which can last between 1 and 3 weeks depending on the region, winery and year, and for people who are flexible in the dates because you have to adapt the days and hours worked according to the weather.

Cleaning the chai and tools before the harvest

The fermentation hall and cellar needs to be prepared for the arrival of the new harvest. Sometimes that means bottling the previous vintage to free up space in the vats, but in any case the vats and empty barrels need to be cleaned, the cellar tidied up to make space for the machines used during the harvest such as the sorting table, de-stemming machine, press, or conveyor belts used to carry the picked grapes. Buckets, hops, and secateurs need to be found, and all of the equipment thoroughly cleaned. It's the winemaker's version of a spring clean!

The most difficult thing left to do is to estimate the start date of the harvest. In the northern hemisphere, they generally start between August and October, and can even take place a couple of times a year in certain regions close to the equator where the cold and hot seasons are less marked. This year, for the most part, the harvest will start a little earlier than usual, and some of our partner winemakers will start the harvest this week.

Using the mustimeter to estimate the harvest date

Nowadays, the winemaker is equipped to analyse the maturity of the grapes to help decide when to begin harvesting. A mustimeter enables the density of the must in the grapes to be measured, giving an estimation of the alcoholic volume of the wine that it produces. It's important to monitor the alcoholic volume because minimum and maximum levels are highly regulated in the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée system.

But the most trustworthy and reliable tools used by the winemakers remain their eyes and mouth. As the harvest approaches, they roam the vineyards to look at and taste the grapes to see if they have reached optimum maturity. It is after all a personal choice by the winemaker for each plot!

So the much awaited moment of the harvest is now upon us, so it's time to start snipping the secateurs, but that will be the subject of a future article! If you would like to have a go at harvesting yourself, you can always participate in a Gourmet Odyssey Harvest Experience Day!

Also read "A brief history of grape harvesting"


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