TODAY has started very early, as about 4 o’clock in the morning M. woke me up saying (shouting, to be exact) that he is dying. He couldn’t feel his foot; he couldn’t move it, he could barely walk! So since the very early morning I was up and ready to not-my-work, as during the harvest there are no weekends off, so M. works both Saturdays and Sundays. Being his ‘personal taxi driver’ meant I had to work this weekend as well, not doing my stuff, however, but working with him making wine instead ;) The day became my machine harvest 2016 exciting adventure ;)
Just before lunch time we got to Chateau La Clariere, which is located in Sainte Colombe in the Right Bank of Bordeaux wine region. All the winemakers were there, harvesting the grapes from surrounding vineyards, therefore I was very happy that I could look around, talk to people and –obvi!- take some pictures. Harvest 2016 is full on!
The day has been very nice so far and the Merlot vineyards look beautiful bathed in the afternoon sun. Bunches of grapes also looks beautiful and they taste absolutely stunning!
I heard it through the grape vine (harvest 2016 short report)
The 2016 vintage hasn’t been very consistent in my area. Wet and cold weather in spring affected the flowering. Late spring and summer were hot and dry, so the berries were gaining the sugar, but stayed small with thick skins. In late August we started to pray for rain, as it’s been too hot and too dry and vines were struggling. Also, at the end of August and beginning of September there were a few days in a row with very high temperature during the day (30-35 C degrees) and very cold nights (temperature’s been dropping to about 10-15 C degrees), which was perfect for the berries. This recurred in first half of September, so we’ve been very happy. A heavy down pour in September made us worry that the berries will take in water, split and possibly get botrytis (the bad one).
What’s the situation in the vineyards at the moment? Well, the berries are ripe, about 14 Baume . The grapes from that particular vineyard (on the pic above) will be picked on Wednesday if the weather stays consistent. Grapes from the top of the hill are being picked today, that’s why I’m here ;))
The grapes from the top of the hill were coming in a truck to the winery at the bottom of the hill in Saint Colombe in Bordeaux. In the winery, the team of winemakers was waiting to process the fruit. I was also there, with my phone to take some photos and short videos, so you can see how it goes.
The truck with freshly picked berries has just arrived in the winery. The first stage of the grape processing was to eliminate the berries, which are lower than 13% in alcohol level.
In the video below you can see the machines used for processing the grapes just after harvest. This video shows the beginning of the process. That was also the moment, where my dear friend Vincent asked me whether I would like to try the juice. I tried. It was delicious.
Video 1 – Harvest 2016, preparation
A water bath
To separate the ripe berries from the unripe ones, the winemakers use the water solution. Yes, as simple as it sounds, the water bath is the first stage of the process to eliminate the berries with low alcohol level.
It’s very simple – berries, which have more than 13% alcohol vol potential sink in the water and those which are unripe stay on the surface of the water, so they can be easily removed along with leaves, fragments of stalks and thrown away.
As a high-quality wine producer, you wouldn’t want the unripe berries in your fermentation tank, would you? Therefore the unripe berries need to be separate from the ripe ones to eliminate the greenness in the final wine.
Can winegrowers prevent it during the vintage?
Not really as each bunch of grapes ripens differently during the year. It depends on many elements – the flowering, the sunshine, the leaves that cover the bunch etc. Therefore in one bunch of grapes there are berries that are bigger, smaller with different ripeness and sugar – acidity level. When making a quality wine, producers put much attention to pick the best berries possible.
In the video below you can see that part of the grape processing. If you have any questions regarding this stage of winemaking, drop me a line in the comments!
Video – Harvest 2016, grape processing 1
C’mon babes, shake it off
After a short bath in the water, berries go to sorting table, as still some of unwanted parts of the vine and berries may get through the water solution. During a short ride on the ‘shaking’ table, the good berries fall through and the leaves, pieces of stalk or the unripe/green berries fall to the bin basket.
The ripe and good berries are pumped up to the concrete tanks for a 2 to 3 days maceration and later for fermentation.
In the video below you can see how it goes:
video – Harvest 2016, Bordeaux, grape processing 2
Certified Harvest Lady
I am very lucky because living in the heart of the Bordeaux wine region makes me part of all of these wonderful moments, when I can participate (or just observe) the stages of the great Bordeaux wine making. It’s a good experience and lots of great fun.
Last year I’ve been a member of the harvest team, so I’ve harvested the 2015 vintage by hand. Last year after the harvest, I spent some time on the sorting table and with the machines to process the grapes that we’d picked. Unfortunately this year we’re not picking by hand, so I was very happy to join the team for one day in the winery after the machine harvest.
Related post: Grape processing – from the vineyard to the tank
Machine harvest 2016
It’s been a great experience to watch the machine harvest as I’ve never witnessed it firsthand. I knew it could be fast and easy, but still, I was surprised. To pick one row of grapes (about 50-60 meters long row), the machine needs just a few minutes.
During the harvest, the machine shakes the vines and berries travel up on a conveyor to the top of the harvester. Then, on top, they are pushed through the machine and the berries are stored into the side tanks. Pieces of canes and leaves are thrown back to the vineyard.
In the video below you can see the harvester in action. If you put a bit more attention to the video and look closer at the vine behind the harvester (16th-19th seconds of the video,) you will see that some bunches of grapes haven’t been picked and they stayed on vines.
This happens, when bunches of grapes are too low on the vine and machine can’t reach them. That’s why it is extremely important to prune correctly and make sure, that the fruiting canes are the same height.
video – harvest by machine, Sainte Colombe, Bordeaux
My short romance with the machine harvest
Today, though, I have not only witnessed the machine harvesting grapes a few metres from me, but also I had a ride on the harvest machine. We harvested a few rows of Malbec together, with me standing on the top of the harvest machine and observing all of it in action.
Although it wasn’t very bumpy and standing on the harvester was safe, I didn’t want to risk having my phone with me. It would be sad to see it making friends with berries for a second and to be smashed and turned into pieces ;)
The view was fabulous! As we’ve been harvesting on top of the hill, I could see the Saint Colombe vineyards and Saint Emilion vineyards. I could see other estates picking as well.
To sum up
I had a great time! As harvesting is going on for another few days, I think during next 2-3 days I will join the team and do some pump-overs, sorting tables or other things and contribute in 2016 vintage.
I cannot wait to plant my own vineyard in front of my Maison and be able to work in the vineyard on a day to day basis. I also cannot wait to take part in the harvest of my own wines every single year. Honestly, it’s something I look forward to the most! :) But priorities are priorities: the driveway must be done first ;))
Have any of you experienced the machine harvesting? Have you ever been on a harvester, watching berries being picked from the top? ;) If so, have you enjoyed it? I will be happy to read about it! Cheers!