Harvest Time 2018
As the summer draws to a close, (and what a summer we’ve had this year!) our attention turns towards harvest, the gathering and reaping of rewards from a year’s worth of toil. The grapes have spent the summer days ripening gloriously. 2018’s extended period of unprecedented heat and sunshine across the UK afforded the vines with a luxurious slow ripening period, allowing the grapes to develop gradually, (which is preferential for achieving the highest quality).
Viticulturalists the country over are testing their sugar and acidity levels, anxiously determining where the perfect balance lies and when the optimum time to harvest will be. If you pick your grapes too early, you may not achieve the ripeness you ideally seek, but if you leave your grapes lingering too long on the vine, you run the risk of losing your acidity or finding your vineyard succumbs to disease or frost. The vineyard is a fickle place at this time of year. A matter of days can make all the difference to the quality of your fruit, one way or another.
The UK’s grape harvest usually commences around the beginning of October and lasts roughly 4-6 weeks. However, due to this year’s incredible weather, most vineyards have already started their harvest. Wineries are filling up with the sounds of trucks bringing in grapes, presses gently squeezing their precious cargo and juice cascading into tanks.
Early-ripening varieties, such as Ortega, Rondo and Pinot Noir Précoce, (an early-ripening clone of the traditional Pinot Noir grape variety) are the first to arrive.
Nearly every single bunch of grapes in the UK will be picked by hand. To give you an insight into exactly what happens at harvest, here’s an example of a typical day:
- Pickers arrive at the vineyard early in the morning.
- The vineyard supervisor will determine which varieties will be picked that day and acknowledge what to look out for regarding any disease, (usually a quick scrape with your harvest shears will dislodge any diseased grapes out of an otherwise healthy bunch). Fortunately, this year the majority of grapes are in beautiful condition.
- Harvesting begins.
- One important tip to take heed of is “never snip unless you can see your fingers.” First aid kits are critical harvest equipment as those shears are sharp!
- As each bunch of grapes is snipped off the vine, they are put into buckets which are dotted at intervals along the rows.
- Once laden with grapes, these buckets are transferred to the winery, (or to the truck which will then take them to the winery if the vineyard does not have one onsite).
Grape harvesting sounds idyllic when you picture golden vineyards in the late summer sunshine, surrounded by the calming buzzing of insects and rustle of leaves in the breeze. The vineyards are definitely beautiful, serene places to be, but the actual harvesting is hard work. To be able to see the grapes you’re snipping, you have to bend over or crouch down due to the height of the grapes on the vine. This may seem fine for one or two vines, but when you have to harvest multiple rows of vines in any one day, you soon learn that a long, hot bath in the evening is the only way to cure an aching back!
Vineyard pickers are some of the wine industry’s unsung heroes. This labour-intensive task is undertaken in a short space of time as every vineyard requires pickers within the same 4-6 week period as the grape varieties all ripen within the same timeframe. This creates a massive logistical operation. The majority of pickers are seasonal workers, meaning they come to England specifically to harvest our grapes. We are indebted to their commitment and viticultural expertise. Without these pickers, we may be able to grow the highest quality grapes, but we wouldn’t be able to get them to the winery in order to turn them into wine!
As the evenings draw in and you snuggle up on the sofa under a blanket with a glass of wine, take a moment to consider the humble grape’s incredible journey from vineyard to winery to bottle.