How are grapes harvested

Grape harvest - grape harvest
From the vine to the cellar

Hans-Jakob Fuchs in front of ripe Regent grapes.

The grape harvest is naturally the most beautiful time of the year for the winemaker: the wages of the effort are clearly visible (and palpable!) On the vines that have been cherished and cared for all year round: the ripe grapes from which we press our wines .

Before the grape harvest: when does it start?

Ripe or not ripe is the question

The grapes are by no means all ripe at the same time. Depending on the grape variety, but also on the location, the right harvest time is different.

In addition, depending on the desired result, a corresponding degree of ripeness is required - a Beerenauslese must ripen significantly longer on the cane than a QbA for all days.

Ripe for eating is far from being ripe for wine

From around the end of August to the beginning of September, the early-ripening grape varieties are ready to eat, i.e. they have formed enough sweetness that they taste pleasantly sweet when consumed fresh from the cane.

For winemaking, however, we need a significantly higher degree of ripeness so that the wines achieve the necessary taste density on the one hand and do not have excessively high acid values ​​on the other.

The late-ripening varieties usually only reach eating maturity towards the end of September. The right time for the harvest is a few weeks later, depending on the desired quality.

Hans-Jakob Fuchs measuring the maturity
with the refractometer

Maturity measurement: daily increasing sweetness and decreasing acidity

From the time we are ready to eat, we regularly measure the ripening progress, not just by taste - one of the best and tastiest tasks in the wine year! - but above all with the refractometer

The refractometer is an optical measuring device that uses the refraction of light of the grape juice to indicate its ripeness in degrees Oechsle.

To do this, a little juice is dripped onto the measuring plate of the refractometer. In the backlight, the Oechsle grade is read on a scale.

In calm, sunny autumn weather with mild temperatures, the vines virtually assimilate every single ray of sunshine. They produce more sugar and extract every day and thus higher degrees of Oechsle and, in parallel, break down more and more of the fruit acids contained in the berries.

Harvest with the harvesting machine / grape harvester

In our little video you can see the grape harvester at work. We shot the little film during the harvest of the dark fields, a particularly colorful red wine variety.

Rebstock, shake yourself
Rebstock, shake yourself!

The principle of machine picking is based on shaking off the ripe (!) Berries from the vines by making the vine row vibrate.

Not ripe, underdeveloped or late with blooming berries as well as the wooden stalks of the grapes (“black horses”) stick to the vines.

Two conveyor belts at the foot of the reading machine run to the right and left of the row to catch the falling berries.

While a powerful fan blows away falling leaves, the berries are transported into the “bunker” of the harvesting machine. As soon as this is full, it is emptied onto the waiting roll.

Above the vines -
the high school of driving art

A row of vines is about 2 to 2.50 m high; the reading machine straddles it. The driver of the grape harvester sits in the middle of the vineyard at a lofty height while working. The transparent floor of the cockpit and extensive screen monitoring enable him to control his device with practically centimeter precision.

Despite its enormous size, the reading machine is surprisingly manoeuvrable and has extensive hydraulic adjustment options. Its four “legs” can be set at different heights and adapted to the terrain so that it can also be used on the slope across the slope.

Verjuslese by hand

Vintage by hand

The classic form of the grape harvest still takes place today: In the Verjus harvest, where unripe berries have to be harvested, or in locations that are too steep for the grape harvester, hand-picking is the only harvesting method.

The harvest workers set off armed with grape shears and buckets. Often times it is still cool and humid in the early morning hours - rubber boots and a hard-wearing jacket are the right equipment.

Hand-picking is a strenuous business, because even in our raised, open-plan facilities, the grape zone is so deep that constant stooping is necessary. Many readers therefore like to carry a wooden wine box with them as a stool.

The “hengel” (colloquially for “grapes”) are cut off one by one with the pointed, sharp-edged scissors and placed in a bucket. The typical green grape harvesting buckets are traditionally extra wide and hold around 15 liters.

The full buckets used to be emptied into the “Flounder”; a tall vessel that the "butter-bearer" carried on his back. He was constantly traveling back and forth between the readers and the “Rolle”, the trailer on which the grapes are brought home: emptying the bucket into the flounder, emptying the flounder onto the roller and back again - a strenuous experience, especially on sloping terrain Activity.

Instead of the butt carrier, we use a grape transporter on the tractor, which at least makes work a little easier.

What's next with the grapes?

Regardless of whether they are picked by hand or machine, the grapes are transported home on the roll. For this purpose, the rollers are equipped with tarpaulins that can not only be scrubbed sparkling clean, but also prevent juice from being lost on the way home.

From grape to mash ...

When they arrive at the winery, the grapes are tipped from the roll into the grape tub, a large funnel, from where they are transported to the mash mill with a screw. Imagine the construction like an oversized meat grinder into which the grapes fall at the top and the mash comes out at the bottom.

The mash is then pumped through thick hoses into large mash tanks, where - depending on the grape variety - it may stand for a few hours. This “letting it steep” promotes the formation of juice and releases flavorings from the skin. Red wine mash is warmed up slightly in these tanks to release the color from the berry skin.

... from the mash to the must ...

The wine press is “heaped up” from the mash tanks. The juice is pressed with little pressure so as not to damage the grape seeds, which are very thick in some grape varieties. If the pressure is too high, unwanted bitter substances would get into the must from the kernels.

... from must to wine

Before the freshly pressed must is pumped into the fermentation tank, it is freed from all debris using an elaborate filter process: the flotation system separates all solid particles and the crystal-clear, clean juice is stored for fermentation.

Pomace: biomass for the vineyards

After pressing, the solid components of the grapes, consisting of skins and seeds, remain, the so-called pomace. We return it to the vineyards, where it is returned to the natural cycle as valuable compost.