What is the harvest and why is it so important?
The raw material of wine is the grape and grapes come from vines. That is why they say that good wines are born exactly there, on the vine.
Also, as the saying goes, “you reap what you sow”. And the vine, as we have already told you, it is not only sown, it’s also pruned, watered… A whole year of work that culminates in the harvest, one of the most decisive factors in the quality of a wine.
And a third maximum: promises are made to be kept. When I told you how we work in the Rioja Alta vineyards where the grapes that we use to produce Bodegas Montecillo’s wines grow, we promised that we would speak about the harvest in greater detail. So now it is time to fulfil our promise.
What is the harvest?
The Spanish word for harvest, “vendimia” comes from the Latin noun “vindemia”, composed of the words “vinea” or vine and the verb “demere”, which means pick or remove.
As you can guess from its etymology, the “vendimia” is the process of picking the grapes from the vine to subsequently produce wine.
When does the harvest occur?
The selection of the date is fundamental for a successful harvest. It requires picking the grapes at moment of optimum ripeness, no sooner and no later.
In some areas of Spain harvest starts in the month of July, although in the Rioja Alta it usually takes place between late September and early October. In the other half of the world, the calendar is reversed: in the Antipodes the harvest takes place between the months of March and April.
In any case, there is no set date, but rather it is the vine grower, together with the oenologist, who decide – based on their experience and expertise – the day and the time when the harvest will be given the green light each year. This decision depends on many factors, although the two main ones are:
- The level of ripeness of the grapes. As we have already indicated, the aim is to achieve a balance between acidity and sugar.
- Weather conditions. They should be good, therefore it is very important to keep an eye on the forecast. Frost a few days before the harvest could be devastating or rain could rot the fruit ahead of time.
Depending on the condition of the grapes and the weather forecast, the vine grower can decide to bring forward the start date or postpone it.
In addition, you have to consider the type of wine that is going to be produced, as the grape will require a certain level of ripeness, depending on whether it is destined to be made into young or aged wine, for example.
How long does the harvest last?
Once the right moment to start the harvest has been decided upon, ideally the grapes should be picked as quickly as possible. This way, the grape harvest will be uniform.
The harvest can last a couple of weeks, although over large areas it can last up to a month or even a little longer. On the other hand, the length of this process will also depend on the grape variety as each one has a different maturation cycle.
What jobs are carried out in the vineyard during harvest?
There are two ways of harvesting: by hand or by machine.
Machine harvesting, as it name indicates, is carried out using machines, making it quicker and more economical.
But wines of higher quality require the grapes to be treated with all the care and attention that only a traditional harvest can provide, when it is carried by hand, grape by grape.
Every bunch is cut individually with a knife with a curved blade or with shears. All the bunches that are in a bad condition are thrown away and the rest are piled in plastic crates or wicker baskets, which shouldn’t be too deep to avoid crushing the grapes. It is the only way to make sure that the grape can give its best.
Harvesting is hard work and very physically demanding, as the days in the vineyard are long. But it is a happy time. The harvesters are organised into teams, and although the work is endless, it takes place among stories, jokes and anecdotes.
The harvesters load the crates onto a trailer that, after being weighed, head off to be crushed. The wine is born in the vineyard, but it is in the winery where the magic continues… Although we’ll finish the story here for now: this is material for another chapter.
A good harvest is reason for celebration, and this is why the fiestas in Riojan towns take place around the time of harvest. If you have not yet visited the land where we produce our wines, you are more than welcome to visit us during the harvest festival to enjoy traditions such as grape crushing, concerts, bull running, fireworks, and of course, wine tastings. Make a date in the diary. We are waiting for you!