What month is grape harvest?

grape harvest in Castiglione Falletto from the Boroli company

The harvesting of grapes is a topical moment for all winegrowers: understanding what month grapes should be picked is fundamental for quality production, to bring out the full potential of the wine. It is a balance of several factors, a delicate stability between chemistry and tradition, indicators and intuition. The grape harvest is a decisive moment that has fascinated winemakers since the beginning of oenological history and that still determines the outcome of vintage wines. For this reason, it is essential to know when the grapes are at the ideal ripening point to be harvested and to start the winemaking process: the wonder that defines how the grapes are transformed into wine. Generally, we could say that September is the perfect month for grape harvesting, however, the harvest period is increasingly longer, from August to November in the case of particularly late grapes. It depends on the type of grape and the type of wine you want to obtain, the climatic conditions and temperature, and the characteristics of the individual grape varieties. In this article we will try to go deeper: we will understand how grape harvesting works and what are the clues suggesting when it is time to harvest.

What to do before a grape harvest

The best moment to pick grapes is when they reach the ideal degree of ripeness. If until a century ago there was no scientific approach to determine it, today the oenologist has several tools at his disposal. So here’s what to do before the harvest: measure and analyze the parameters to determine the degree of ripeness of the grapes. Let’s analyze the three main ones below:

  1. Phenolic maturation: it concerns the concentration of phenolic substances in the grape, i.e. the substances that determine the colour (anthocyanins) and the structure of the wine (tannins); the former decrease slightly going forward with the maturation of the grape, the latter increase proportionally.
  2. Aromatic maturation: it concerns the component that determines the aroma of the wine. As the ripening progresses, the concentration of the aromatic substances increases and then decreases slightly if the harvest is delayed.
  3. Technological maturation: it refers to the relationship between the sugary component and the acid component in the grape. During the ripening process, there is an increase in sugars and a decrease in acids. Knowing this relationship is essential to knowingly produce different types of wine, depending on the characteristic you want to enhance.

Given the delicacy of this last parameter, it is important to know what the sugar content of the grape is: the quality of the wine that corresponds to the percentage of sugar in the must, usually measured in kilograms of sugar per quintal of must. Here is how to measure the sugar content of wine: the most common instruments are refractometers, which measure the variation in the refractive angle of the must, and must saccharimeters, which measure its density. The Klosterneuburg Must Weight Scale (KMW) goes from 0 to 34 and is one of the reference units of measurement for determining the sugar content of wines; it is based on the measurement of density and grows with the increase of dissolved sugars.

The best time to harvest grapes, in a final analysis, occurs when there is a coincidence between phenolic, aromatic and technological ripening. It is easy to understand at this point that the perfect moment is difficult to establish: it is a delicate play of balances, a midpoint between these three factors, which takes into account the type of wine we want to produce, in addition to the eye and intuition of the winemaker. 

How many types of harvest are there?

Once the most convenient time to pick the grapes has been determined, it is time to move on to more practical activities. If you are wondering how many types of harvest there are, we can say that that of grapes typically takes place in two ways: manual harvesting and mechanical harvesting:

  • Manual harvesting is a traditional technique and the one that allows greater control over the production and quality of the grapes; the operators directly select the bunches and place them in the harvest baskets to be then transferred to the cellar and begin the vinification. Some varieties require manual harvesting. 
  • Mechanical harvesting uses special tools like harvesting machines that shake the vines and harvest the grapes; it is a faster technique but at the same time less selective.

At Boroli, the grapes are harvested exclusively by hand, following tradition, rigour and direct contact between man and vine. A quality that becomes a dedication in the atavistic gesture of the collection, a moment of celebration and a celebration of excellence.

The stages of the harvest

Once the grapes have been picked, what are the stages of the grape harvest? After having brought the best bunches from the vine to the cellar, the delicate process that transforms the grapes into wine begins. In this first phase, it is important to keep the grapes as well as possible in small containers to avoid crushing. At this point, we move on to the pressing phase. Boroli uses a destemming machine that allows a perfect separation of grapes and bunch, without any rupture. The grape then passes through special pressure pumps to the steel tanks. Another peculiarity of the Boroli production is the exclusive use of “free run wine” thanks to which all the juice collected results from the fall by gravity, without pressing. It is during fermentation that the true transformation takes place. As for red wines, the must remains in contact with the skins until a moment defined with great care, to enhance colour and perfumes. Once the stabilization is complete, the ageing phase begins in barrells or large casks, where the wine will rest, perfecting all the chemical characteristics and sensory qualities, until bottling.

How long does it take to harvest grapes?

If you’re wondering how long it takes to harvest grapes, it’s always a good idea to speed things up as much as possible. During the harvest, it is essential to follow some specific precautions. Among these there are the recommendations, always valuable, not to harvest the grapes during the hottest hours to avoid unwanted fermentation and not to let too much time pass between the harvest and the subsequent vinification. Among the rules of Boroli’s production is the commitment to never let more than an hour pass from the moment of harvesting to the crushing phase. A shorter harvest also guarantees uniform maturation and treatment.

What will the 2022 harvest be like?

Let’s get to the present: what should we expect from this last year? To understand, and predict, what the 2022 harvest will be like, here are the data collected on the performance of the year in Italy. The temperature was above average – often anticipating the harvest by a couple of weeks, with drought peaks that fortunately have not compromised the quality and quantity of the harvest. There were no obvious anomalies or imbalances and total production in 2022 stood at 50,1 million hectolitres, in line with the 2021 figures.

This is what was stated in the report of the Assoenologi Observatory, Ismea and Italian Wine Union, presented on September 14 at Mipaaf: “The drought and the hot record this year have not compromised the Italian vineyard which, at the start of the harvest campaign, promises quality grapes from good to excellent, with a quantity in line with the average of the last years”.

Wondering when it is time to harvest is the starting point of a marvel that takes place from year to year, from the grape to the glass, and 2022 is full of flavours and surprises.

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