Gloves- check, head lamp- check, multiple layers- check. Its nearing 12 am and I am on my way out the door to start my day, or night rather of picking. Hand harvesting is by far most meticulous and pain staking way to harvest grapes, however it is also a great way to get an idea of the what the crop looks like. Quality control is huge here as each grape cluster goes through several different hands even before reaching the winery and is likely sorted an additional time.
The process of preparing for hand harvesting begins several months before hand. Our standard farming protocol is performed; shoot suckering, canopy leafing, weak shoot fruit removal, and verasion thinning. Most of the members of our picking crew have been with us for many years. They are well trained in identifying ripe, good, clean clusters and will pick through them, leaving poor quality ones on the vine. The clusters are carefully examined by several leaf pullers who stand at the bin and are responsible for pulling all the MOG (Matter Other than Grapes) out of the bins. This job can be full of surprises as you never know what will be thrown in the bin along with the grapes; mice, frogs, caterpillars and even the occasional baby snake as they like to hide in the vineyards and eat the insects.
We make sure to not overload the crew according to each varietal and each lot that needs to be harvested. We move slow and steady through each row which is why hand harvesting takes much longer than machine picking but it also gives us the ability to pay more attention to the details. Probably the most common question I get asked is why do you harvest at night? Harvesting at night benefits both the grapes and employees. It’s beneficial to bring in the fruit to the winery as cold as possible. It stabilizes the sugar and make the berries more resilient to early breakage which means you get more free run juice, the highest quality juice when you crush at the winery. The fruit is fresher and the stems are stiffer and easier to cut. In addition it is better for the workers as conditions are cooler and much more manageable. Hand harvesting may seem traditional or behind the times. Technology being what it is these days everything seems to be moving at high speed, but when it comes to quality, nothing beats doing things by hand. Its like the saying goes, “many hands make light work.”