September 2021

Vineyard Journal, September 2021: Harvest

The sweet romance of a year in the vineyard comes to fruition at harvest. Good winemakers time their “picks” to optimize the year’s expression of each parcel, pushing the limits of weather, luck and sleepless nights as sugars rise, flavors develop, and acid diminishes. One night on the vine too many might cost their crop a precious touch of brightening acid or bring unwanted boozy tones, while one night too few might cost the subtle nuance of depth that separates good years from great ones. All their farming decisions have led up to this moment, and now a single day can make or break a wine as vineyards are harvested whole.

Harvest used to look similar in most places: people cut ripe bunches of grapes into baskets, walked them to bins on buggies, drove them to fermentors, and stomped them into juice. Machines have taken the place of people in large operations--can you imagine putting all that work into your crop, only to have it ripped from the vine by a robot that can’t distinguish healthy fruit from the rest? Damaged fruit harvested this way invites rot and requires chemical stabilization in the winery. Good juice still comes from carefully hand-harvested fruit. Foot trodding still happens sometimes, but stainless steel crushers are more common.

Isn’t foot trodding dirty? While you can wash your feet, grapes don’t wash. They come in as they were in the field with all of harvest’s dust and morning dew, pollen and resin from neighboring plants, wild yeasts and fingerprints. If it’s on the bunches, it’s in there with the juice. This harmless organic matter will fall out of the wine as it ferments and settles. What won’t fall out? Synthetic chemicals used in conventional vineyards. Shockingly, they’re in nearly every bottle of conventionally farmed wine in measurable quantities. Woah.

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