Harvest season at River Bend officially kicked off on Saturday with our Brianna grapes coming off the vine. After patiently waiting out the morning rain, our volunteer picking crew got after it and by 10:30 Saturday morning, all of the Brianna was in the bins, ready to press. The harvest was a bit smaller than anticipated and the birds decided they liked Brianna quite a bit this year. But today we have juice in the tank and by week's end, the juice will technically be wine. Once fermentation is complete, it will take several months for this wine to actually be bottle ready, but the first few steps of taking grapes to the glass are complete, and all is right with the world.
Most small producers harvest grapes by hand. Most large producers harvest grapes by machine. Harvesting by hand has two distinct advantages. The first is that we are able to do some sorting of the berries, both in the field and at the press. As I mentioned, the birds found our Brianna earlier than normal this year, so there was a bit more "bird strike" than we have seen in the past. Birds are quite finicky about their grapes, so they test them by pecking holes in them, and when they are not ripe enough, they leave them on the vine that way. After a few days, these berries dry up, and if you have been vigilant with your disease management program, they cause few problems. With all of the rain we saw in the past few weeks, we are fortunate that Al is the vigilant type and that his disease management has been solid all summer.
The second advantage to harvesting by hand is that the majority of the clusters remain intact. Grapes that are intact do not start fermenting on their own. Berries harvested by machine, however, get pretty beat up and will start juicing before you can get them to the press. Juice in the bottom of the bin can start fermenting on its own due to wild yeast that is present in the air. Machine harvested grapes must be pressed immediately to avoid wild fermentation. Large producers are able to pull this off because they have a large labor force. Small producers do most processing with just a few people, so having intact fruit on the way to the press buys time.
The one disadvantage to harvesting grapes by hand is the number of hands that are needed. With just the two of us, Al and I can press four tons of fruit per day once it has been picked. However, harvesting four tons requires forty pickers minimum if you want it picked in one day...and preferably in one morning. And that is where our awesome volunteers come in. Each year, we put the word out through social media and our email newsletter when picking time is drawing near. And our customers never disappoint. I hope and believe they actually enjoy coming out to help us bring in the harvest. We have several people who come every year...sometimes on every picking weekend...and we always have new folks who want to share in the experience. If we plan it right...and mother nature cooperates...we are in the field by 8:30 on a Saturday morning and back having lunch and wine before noon. Having a hand in harvesting the fruit provides a "grapes to the glass" perspective that people otherwise do not have. I like to think it helps connect them to us and the wine in a more personal way. So to all of the volunteers that came out this past weekend and to all who have signed up for later in September, we offer a heartfelt Thank You! We truly could not do it without you.
Until next time...Cheers!