- October 8, 2014
When it comes to picking grapes, harvesting by machine is the best way in my book. It is incredibly efficient because the grapes go from being on the vine to crushed and into a chilled tank within the span of a half an hour. When grapes are picked by hand, that process takes a minimum of four hours.
If you visit Wine Country during Harvest and happen to take a drive in the middle of the night, you would almost certainly come across a machine harvester at work. Many people wonder why we harvest at night. It’s simple: the fruit is at its best plus cool and we don’t need daylight to pick mechanically. It takes extra concentration to work at night but with enough coffee and the excitement of Harvest, we make it through.
Our harvester is amazing. It straddles a row of grapes, and inside there are 14 flexible fiberglass rods…a little like a rib cage. The driver’s seat is about 15 feet above the ground where I can see over the top of the vines. As we head down a row, the rods gently shake back and forth. They are adjusted so that they firmly hold onto each vine for an instant as the machine passes. The shaking motion is tuned to a particular frequency, typically between 480 and 560 beats per minute. This movement of the vine causes the berries to fall off the stem, leaving the stem attached to the vine. The grapes fall to the sides of the machine where conveyer belts carry them into two bins on the shoulders of the machine. Along the way, there are a few high speed fans that remove leaves and other debris that may have fallen from the vines along with the fruit.
Once we reach the end of the row, Antonio pulls the tractor behind the harvester and we slowly raise the bins so that the grapes slide into the gondola. Then Antonio and the grapes head off to the winery where Parke and the winemaking team begin to work their magic. We are lucky that our estate vineyard is a short distance from the winery. Parke receives grapes that are cool, fresh and berries that are mostly still whole. There is no doubt that the short time between picking the grapes and getting them into the winery preserves their quality which yields an even better wine.
Above, I am about to unload a bin of Cabernet grapes. See what happens next!