Do you have what it takes…?

Wine / Friday, February 15th, 2019

If you love wine and enjoy learning about how it’s made, then there is a pretty good chance you’ve imagined yourself amongst the grapevines handpicking bunches of grapes destined for your favourite drop.

If that’s you (of course it is… why else would you be here?), then you’re going to want to read this post!


It’s getting to the pointy end of the growing season here in the Adelaide Hills. Rob visited both the Summertown and Charleston vineyards yesterday to take a first-hand look at how the grapes are progressing. Here are some photos of what he saw…

Pinot Noir – destined for our Sparkling
Sauvignon Blanc
Our 2019 Adelaide Hills Tempranillo
Pinot Noir for our dry red

It looks as though it could only be around 2 more weeks until the majority of fruit will be ready to pick! And early next week, Rob will be taking some samples of the Pinot for Sparkling to the lab for testing.


Now, I know we talked about this last vintage, but I think it’s timely to re-visit our discussion on the different ways to harvest grapes…


Picking by hand

Traditionally grapes have always been picked by hand. It is obviously the gentlest way to handle grapes at harvest time, allowing for the removal of whole bunches – leaving the berries attached to the stalks. This can be important depending on the variety and style of wine the wine-maker is hoping to produce.

Hand-picking has it’s downsides though… it obviously takes a long time. The timing of harvest is a crucial aspect of wine-making. Anything that delays the fruit coming off the vine (even by just a day or so), such as weather, availability of workers etc. can affect the quality of the resulting wine. It also costs a lot more than using machinery. Estimates suggest 2-3 times more.


Mechanical harvesting

Mechanical harvesters work by moving along the row and shaking the vines. This movement causes the berries to fall off their stalks.

There are several benefits to using machine harvesting over hand-picking. Firstly, and most obviously, it allows grapes to be picked at a fraction of the cost and time. This can be really important when the grapes have reached their desired ripeness and need to be removed quickly.

Secondly, these machines can pick through the night when temperatures are cooler. As we know, oxidation can occur at higher temperatures, so picking at night is often a better option if daytime temperatures are high. Ideally, grapes should be picked at an ambient temperature of between 8 and 16 degrees Celcius.


So why pick by hand at all?

There are a few situations for which mechanical harvesters cannot be used…

Some vineyards are simply inaccessible to heavy equipment. Steep slopes can make mechanical harvesting impossible.

In other cases, the winemaking technique dictates the use of whole bunches. For example:

  • in the production of premium sparkling wine where whole bunch pressing is used to extract the juice
  • when red wines are made using carbonic maceration

Carbonic maceration is a winemaking technique in which whole grapes are fermented in a carbon dioxide rich environment prior to crushing. The result are wines that are fruity in aroma and flavours. They lack tannins, and deep color. 

  • where there is a need to select only certain bunches or parts of bunches due to the presence of disease or during a season (like 2019!) where frosts and other adverse weather events have caused uneven ripening of berries (known as “hen and chicken”)

Hen and Chicken is a potential viticultural hazard problem in which grape bunches contain berries that differ greatly in size and, most importantly, maturity. Its most common cause is cold, rainy or otherwise bad weather during the flowering stage of the vines (see image)


So which method does Rob use?

Rob always hand picks his Pinot Noir for Sparkling and Rose along with his Sauvignon Blanc.

The main principle is to finish up with fine, delicate, low colour juice. The tannins also need to be low. Since colour, tannins and compounds leading to a bigger bodied juice/wine are in the skins, it makes sense to keep berries/skins intact until the bunches get to the press. Machine harvesting always causes rupture of skins and release of juice, no matter how well it’s done.

For red wines and bigger bodied whites such as Chardonnay, this extra extraction is not a problem, so all the varieties for dry red (Shiraz, Tempranillo and Pinot) are machine harvested. It’s also beneficial for Chardonnay to be machine picked as it helps to give more body, and the slight extra tannin is easily absorbed with the barrel ageing.


What does all this have to do with me?

(I hear you ask)

Rob will be thinking about picking our Sauvignon Blanc in a couple of weeks and is inviting YOU to get involved!

That’s right! You could be standing shoulder to shoulder with Rob as he (and you) carefully hand selects the grapes which will become Somerled’s 2019 Sauvignon Blanc.

We’re currently taking expressions of interest to join Rob’s expert picking team. Unfortunately, the decision on when to pick is usually made within a matter of days, so you need to flexible in terms of availability. 

So, if you’d like some hands-on experience, a chance to ask Rob all your wine-making questions and bragging rights when you pour some 2019 Sauvignon Blanc for your friends, send me a message and I’ll add you to the list!

Remember though… hand-picking is hard work. It’s not as easy or romantic as it seems. But it is rewarding. And you will be rewarded! With refreshments, wine and something to add to your resume!

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