Harvesting is the moment when wine grapes are picked and transported to the winery in order to start the process of wine making. A process that will transform the must into wine. It is an important and delicate operation, which requires knowledge, time and dedication. Grape harvest has always been a very important moment in the production of wine, so much that in Roman times, this circumstance was even celebrated with a specific festivity: vinalia rustica. Romans celebrated it on August 19 and the glory and the echo of this celebration echoed in many other Latin cities. The ritual of grape harvesting is still very much felt today, both by insiders and by everyone else. It keeps a very particular charm and holds a truly unique historical and anthropological value. But it is not only a matter of “sensations” and sharing. The grape harvest is a crucial phase of the winemaking process, an annual work of aggregation, sharing and above all technique and knowledge.
Grape harvest periods
Grape harvest periods go from July to October in the northern hemisphere and from February to April in the southern one. In our hemisphere therefore the identifiable periods are basically three: August-September, September-October and October-November. The period between October-November is the one reserved to late fermentation grapes, such as the ones used for passito wines (this is the case of the harvesting of the grapes used to make Recioto della Valpolicella).
Harvesting is however identifiable with the period in which grapes have reached the desired level of ripeness. This means they have reached phenolic maturation. The latter is measurable in the proportion in which in the grape berry, sugars and acids have reached the optimal and balanced value. All this is in line with the wine to be produced. However there are many factors to be considered when it comes to harvest:
- climatic conditions – at higher latitudes, grapes ripen later
- production area – as altitude increases, grapes ripen earlier
- type of grape – white berried grapes usually ripen earlier than red berried grapes
- type of wine to be produced
The last point in particular depends by many other factors such as
- sugars – sugar content is necessary to start alcoholic fermentation
- acids – necessary to avoid the proliferation of bacteria
- aromatic components – they vary according to the ripeness of grapes and determine the organoleptic characteristics of red and white wine.
Basically, there are two different types:
Manual harvesting is the one reserved to very high quality wines (such as Amarone della Valpolicella and Recioto della Valpolicella of Fratelli Vogadori). With this methodology a real and proper selective choice of bunches is made. Only the best ones will be selected, harvested and used to make wine.
With the mechanical method, on the other hand, facilitating machines and harvesting machines are used. The machines collect the grapes from the vineyards with a series of vertical movements (American vertical shaking), or lateral movements (French lateral shaking). Once the grape is detached from the vineyard, it does not have time to touch the ground as it is immediately collected, cleaned and placed inside a hopper. From the hopper the grapes are subsequently passed to a special trailer.
Harvest in Valpolicella: Amarone and Recioto
In the harvest in Valpolicella for the production of Amarone and Recioto wine, two different time frames can be observed. However the modalities are the same. In fact, harvesting is still done manually. Bunches are carefully selected from the vineyard and only the best ones end up giving life to two of the most prestigious wines of the Italian wine scene.
In the full respect of tradition, grapes are still processed in wooden crates and racks. Containers are never too big and capacious in order to avoid crushing. As soon as the grapes are harvested, they are immediately transported to the winemaking area. The transportation is almost immediate, always in order to avoid fermentation or unwanted maceration. The grapes harvested for Recioto and Amarone are: Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, Oseleta, Negrara. Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella grapes are late budding and medium-late ripening (end of September, beginning of October). Harvesting is never done during the hottest hours of the day in order to avoid any undesired fermentation.
Once harvested, the grapes are then left to rest and dry until January/February, in dry and well ventilated rooms. Grapes are periodically checked in order to verify their state of health. Pressing varies according to the vintage.