During the fall months, vineyards are beginning their harvest season. This usually goes from September through November.
During this time grapes are being plucked from the vines and being made into the wine that will soon be on your table. Once the grape is picked it will no longer ripen, which is why winemakers have to be strategic about when grapes are harvested.
Sometimes farms and winemakers will let the grapes sit on the vine for longer and pick them at “late harvest”. This allows for more sugar to be retained within the grape which in turn will make the wines that grape produces a little bit sweeter. Meaning the sweeter the wine the later it is harvested!
How the grapes are harvested
There are two main ways grapes can be harvested: by hand or by machine. There are benefits and disadvantages to each of these methods. And often winemakers and farmers will use a combination of the two methods depending on which grape they are harvesting.
Harvesting grapes by hand is time consuming however, it is the only method that ensures there won’t be damage to the skins of the grapes. This is good because once the grape skin is broken the grape juice will be tainted by oxidation. It also allows for the more precise selection of the grapes picked.
Harvesting grapes by machine is much more efficient – both cost and time wise. The only issue? Machines are not as precise as by hand harvesting and sometimes they can cause damage to the grape skins. Machine harvesting is best for vineyards that are on flat ground.
However, it is important to remember that harvest season is never perfect and winemakers must think strategically about when to harvest the grapes. There are many factors that go into this decision – weather throughout the year, the varietal, and the grapes’ desired ripeness.
Winemakers need to think about what the desired tannin, acidity, and sweetness levels they wish to have in a specific bottle of wine. These factors help determine when to harvest the grapes from the vine as well as what happens to them after they are harvested.
The grapes are harvested...now what?
Like many trees, the vines in the fall will stop producing carbohydrates from the chlorophyll in the leaves. This will cause the vineyards to get those same bright yellow, red, and orange colors. It can be described in one word: stunning.
But while the leaves are changing and the late harvest grapes are being plucked, there’s action happening inside the winery.
Once the grapes are brought in from the vineyard they are crushed. White wine grapes will be pressed and the remaining skins and stems will be discarded. Red wine on the other hand will go through a maceration period, where it will sit with the stems and skins for a period of time.
This is how rosé gets its color as well. But rosé is usually only in contact with the grape skins for a few hours compared to red wine which can be in contact for days.
After this process red, white, and rosé wines all must go through a fermentation process. During this process the sugars in the wine are turned into alcohol.
Image credits: Bruno Neurath-Wilson