It’s harvest time in the northern hemisphere! One of the most exciting moments of the coming year that is decided by different factors, both natural and human. This event plays a big part in beginning to sketch out the personality of the wines and sparkling wines that we now can’t wait to try.
But do you know how the beginning of the grape harvest is decided and how each winery gets ready to start theirs?
We can explain.
The cycle of the vine
After a sleepy winter, the vine begins to wake up and start its annual biological cycle which includes different crucial and easily identifiable moments: bleeding, budding, flowering, veraison and harvesting.
After the grape harvest, in the autumn, the vine activity stops. Greenery gives way to a sea of woody plants that, together with the colder weather, create a desolate and lifeless landscape. It’s time for a break. During the winter each vine works on replenishing the nutrients and energy needed for the new cycle that begins with bleeding, which you can see happening when the temperatures begin to rise because the sap starts to appear again through the vine shoots. This sap forms like tears through the wounds and cuts from pruning and is the unmistakable sign that the plant has woken up ready to begin its activity.
This usually coincides with spring and is the moment when the first green shoots begin to appear, which will later become the vine’s new leaves.
June is the month of flowering, a beautiful but delicate time. At this stage of the vine’s cycle, tiny white flowers appear, which are the ones that will eventually become a bunch of grapes. However, not all the flowers will become fruit. The flowering of the vine can determine the start of the harvest to some extent: if the vines flower early, it is possible that the harvest will be early and the state of the flowers can also help to calculate an estimated harvest volume.
This moment is pure magic. The already formed bunches continue to develop and take on colour, which in white grapes goes from intense green to different shades of yellow while red grapes turn pink and darken until they reach their characteristic colours.
Throughout the vine cycle, wineries keep a close watch of the vineyard to check for the appearance of pests or diseases. These checks increase during the period before harvesting and the oenologists also analyse and taste the grapes every day to check how ripe they are: they check that the sugar and acidity levels are right and that the berries are in the state the winery wants them depending on the personality and characteristics they want their wines to have.
Sparkling wine producers, for example, are looking for specific levels of acidity, so these grapes are usually harvested before grapes used to make still wines.
How do you prepare for the harvest in the winery?
Preparing the winery plays a very important role.
As the date approaches, winemakers will be thoroughly cleaning their facilities, which isn’t talked about much, but is actually an essential task. The winery is transformed into a space so clean it looks like a hospital. Tanks are disassembled, all the parts are cleaned, more than once, until every item that could cause contamination is eliminated.
If there were to be any kind of contamination, it might affect the wine, which could be completely lost, but it could also cause harm to people, which is why winery cleanliness is so important.
When the most exciting time of the year arrives, each winery decides how to carry out its harvest. Some do it manually, others mechanised. Some harvest at night, others during the day. Some of them look for different levels of ripeness in their grapes, so they harvest in stages, in the same or in different vineyards. Others will do it following the lunar calendar that governs biodynamics...
Roughly speaking, August to October is harvest time in the northern hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere (Argentina, Chile, Australia, etc.) the grape harvest takes place between January and April.
There are particular cases, like Ecuador, where although vine cultivation is not very common, there are some high altitude vineyards which, due to the country’s climatic and geographical characteristics, they are located between the two hemispheres and have two harvests every year. As there is no defined winter, the vine is always at work.
The grape harvest is an exciting and decisive moment but, most importantly, a time to share the hard work that has happened in the vineyard for a whole year with family and colleagues. The grape harvest is a time for celebration!
The winegrowers show their gratitude for a successful harvest through local celebrations that everyone can attend, like the Fiestas de la Vendimia in Jerez or the Fiestas de la Vendimia Riojana in Logroño, the festival of Rioja wine. All of these festivals will let you see and maybe even experience something that is both charming and traditional: the treading of the grapes.
If you are a true wine lover, don’t miss out on opportunities for wine tourism during the grape harvest. Despite being a time of frenetic activity, some wineries organise visits to share the beautiful moment of harvesting the grapes and starting the winemaking process. All of these experiences are, without a doubt, worth enjoying first-hand.