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Ask the Winemakers: How Do You Prepare for Harvest? - Volcanic Selections

For winemakers, harvest is one of the most anticipated (and stressful) times of year. Despite the excitement, this monumental period of the year involves long hours, sleepless nights, and a ton of backbreaking labor while at it. We got to wondering how the winemakers that we work with prepare for such a physically and emotionally-demanding moment. The results are in!

“This year is really special for us, as we are making wine for the very first time in our own cellar! This meant a LOT of investment and planning. Our fermentation vessels are distributed between clay new amphorae (for Las Panzudas) and old amphorae (Garnacha Peluda). We also have a 3000 L new french oak tank that we will combine with a new concrete tank of 2400 L (for Mas del Habanero). We also dug, cleaned, and readapted what seemed to be an old water well at the top of the hill that will become our cellar barrel!” – Luca Hodkginson, Wildmakers & Mas del Habanero. 

Photo Credit: Gail Wines

“How do I prepare for harvest? Our first pick is usually mid-august (Pinot Grigio) and our last can be as late as the first week in November (Cabernet Sauvignon), so I get the F out of wine country for a few weeks. Then hold on for dear life. :)” – Dan O’Brien, Gail Wines. 

“Calm mind and lots and lots of vineyard time!!” – Stéphane Vivier, Vivier Wines. 

“Four things: Evaluation of the quantity of grapes, bottle wine to have enough space in the cellar, selection of a good team, and meditation and prayer to ask for good weather conditions to reach good maturation and have an easy harvest. Then, go!” – Susanna Grassi, I Fabbri

Photo credit: Post & Vine

“ I like to prepare for harvest in two ways. The first is to spend as much time as possible walking the vineyards to soak in the expression of the year. Are the vines still full of energy or are they feeling dark, that could mean this will be a fresher or a riper vintage. And secondly, and maybe even more crucially, I try to tie up all my personal loose ends before disappearing into harvest for the next two months – I visit the dentist, get my haircut, stock up the pantry and freezer, and spend as much time as possible with my friends and family. Wish me luck!” – Rebekah Wineburg, Post & Vine. 

“Here is how we prepare for the harvest: We go on holidays for 15 days to restore our mental and physical energies. This is really important because harvest in our case is a full two months immersion in the vineyards and cellar work. We come back to the winery about 15 days before the harvest starts and check the vineyards so we can estimate with accuracy the quality and the amount of the crop. Then, we sit at the table with all the cellar workers and talk about all the different projects that we will have to carry on during the harvest. It is of fundamental importance to know exactly what you have to do with all the different vineyards and grapes once they come in!

Then we start preparing the cellar. We clean: rooms, tanks, barriques, deestemer, press, pumps, hoses. Cleaning takes up almost all of our pre-harvest days. We check all the electric sockets and we tidy up all the material we have, and we order the materials we are missing for harvest. Once done, we start with sampling and analysis on the berries (we check pH, sugars level, total acidity and we taste the fruit to check tannins and aromas) to decide when and from which vineyard we will start. The day before starting generally we have a big dinner all together, drinking the wines that we love most and that are for us a source of inspiration and then the day after we start!” – Maddalena Fucile, Cigliano di Sopra.

Photo credit: Cigliano di Sopra

“In the vines, initial canopy management was carried out on the eastern side of the leaves to minimize the risk of sunburn, we do the stripping on the other side as well and remove the between leaves at the end of August / beginning of September to promote aeration in the vines. In the cellar: organization and deep-clean overhaul! Including but not limited to sorting, re-organizing, cleaning, and disinfection of vats, tanks, pipes, the pressoir, and the floor of the winery, plus racking and washing of barrels in anticipation of future barrels.” – Loïc Terquem, La Folie Luce. 

“During the summer months we look for grape pickers for a team of 18 people (we have a team of 5 regulars, the rest is spontaneous applications), 2 weeks before the start of the harvest we prepare the cellar, cleaning the vats and presses. It is a period that we all enjoy very much despite the stress, because  it is the fruit of a harvest of a year of work. But this year is very sad, because June and July were very rainy, following the damage of mildew we already estimate at 70% of the loss of harvest… we hope we will have a team of jovial pickers to bring good humor in the  vines and help the plant to regenerate.” – Domaine de l’Envol

Photo credit: Gus Thomas / Domaine de l’Envol

“On a personal level, I try to clear out any personal type tasks by mid-August so that those won’t suddenly demand attention: make sure the oil is changed, doctor or dentist appointments, any household jobs, haircuts, etc.  In the past I’ve also made a point to spend a dedicated day with each of my kids individually since there might be some gaps in my parenting during harvest time! This also goes for any loose ends in the rest of our business, just making sure our tasting rooms, back office, accounting, and sales folks are all set up for success for a few months. We also try to get ourselves really organized with a plan for all of our vineyards. 

Between Reeve and BloodRoot, we work with about 30 vineyards which can be a logistical challenge to stay on top of if you’re not organized.  We’ve already spent a bunch of time working with growers by the time harvest hits but it’s good to start plotting out what goes where, when the ETA is, who is sampling what vineyards, updated cluster/weight measurements that will affect how much fruit is coming in etc.  We also tend to do one final barrel count to make sure we are set. You really can’t prep too much!” – Noah Dorrance, Reeve Wines & BloodRoot 

Photo credit: Domaine Mont d’Oraás

“The most important thing in preparing for the harvest is to have the cleanest possible cellar so as not to contaminate the wines.  It is necessary to dismantle tank valves, pipes, pumps. It is also necessary to plan ahead and recruit seasonal workers for harvest. We also check the correct functioning of the equipment;  do an inventory of and prepare the clippers, harvest baskets… and last but not least, one of the most important, enjoyable and best parts of the harvest prep is meal planning for the group of vendangeurs to be well fed.” – Domaine d’Oraàs 

“A wine producer once said to me that the harvest starts the moment that you finish the previous one, because you immediately have to work to plant the rotation plants, which happens immediately after you pick the last grapes. Therefore, we have all year long to prepare ourselves for harvest. You never feel ready for the big moment, but we can prepare the cellar; it’s an important thing to get back in the harvest mood, but the beautiful thing about this job, especially for artisans, is that whatever you do, you know that every year is different. For example this year turned out really dry and we are all hoping for rain.

What I do, besides of course preparing my ‘machine,’ is to try to accept that every wine is the product of its year and that every year is different. Last thing: praying a bit and lighting some incense always helps :-)” – Robin Mugnaini, Fattoria Le Masse

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