Saturday, 17 September 2011

Vendanges thoughts

"Great wine is made in the vineyard" is a pretty established saying but obviously only tells part of the story. I read recently, and rather like, a more embracing sentence that amounted to:-  the vineyard determines the quality while wine making determines the style.

The step that's missed out here is getting those grapes from the vines and into the hutch where the wine making process can assume control. On a per vine perspective the harvest is a short but intensive and critical process. Deciding when to pick is mainly a style decision, unless wet weather influences the pace, otherwise everything about the vendanges focuses on quality.

Here are two extreme and contrasting images.

The top picture has been machine harvested and is destined to be dumped into the receiving pit of a cooperative - a cooperative that hasn't bottled anything for at least six years. It will be tankered off for use in an anonymous blend or even to create industrial alcohol.

Below, cinsault bunches have been hand-harvested by a family with vigneron friends and placed into shallow cagettes. Quality control on selection takes place at the best point - the start of the process. There are no rotten or unripe bunches, no leaves, no stalks, no snails, no grasshoppers.

This is not a dig at mechanical harvesting which has many advantages, not least the ability to pick volume, pick quickly, and in the cool before dawn. Nevertheless, the very best machine results will need a pass through the vineyard in advance to, for example, remove late forming unripe bunches coined «grapillons». On harvest day a labour intensive sorting table will be needed to receive the grapes. Hand and machine both have their place. A fun way to look at it is something like this. A drinking fountain will struggle to put out a fire, hundreds of drinking fountains could, but only with some serious resource and organisation. Think carefully before taking a drink from a fire hydrant.

For finer wines the Languedoc-Roussillon favours both approaches. In most years the grapes will be in fine condition and less selection is needed than in northern climes where the harvest is later. The diversity of grape varieties grown spreads the elapsed time of the harvest to 6 or more week.This aids hand-picking on small holdings where perhaps half a hectare is manageable in a long morning of picking and gives vignerons time to help out neighbours and share expensive modern equipment.

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