By Tom Higgins, Finger Lakes Special Correspondent
As we begin to sort through our pinot noir with some new volunteers, I am continually asked, "So, does every winery sort through each cluster of grapes?" The quick answer is "No", but there is a much more complicated answer as to why.
There are essentially two ways to harvest the grapes -- by hand or by machine. Hand harvesting is a labor-intensive process, raising the cost of each ton of grapes.
The other alternative is a machine harvester -- which costs a pretty penny initially, but those costs spread across several years (and the harvester doesn’t get tired hands). The harvester can move through a vineyard quickly while shaking the berries and collecting them into the accompanying bins. It should also be stated that vineyards throughout the world use harvesters to pick their fruit.
So why would you go through the effort of hand picking if it is more time consuming and has a higher cost?
- Fruit Quality: With hand-picked grapes, you can easily spot sour rot, or other undesirable things and remove them when sorting. This can be done in the field or at the crush pad and we’ve made the decision to do both to ensure that only the best possible fruit finds its way into the bottle. Going out on a limb here, I would guess that most of the great wines of the world utilize hand picking and some form of sorting when selecting their fruit.
- Gentle Control: Some fruit does not like to be bashed into a pulp before arriving to the crush pad. Pinot noir is one of those varieties that is not forgiving of a heavy hand.
- MOG: Mog is "material other than grapes." For the harvester to get the berries off the vine, it has to use tiny beaters to shake the vine and drop the material into a basket. Anything on the vine, and I mean anything that happens to be unlucky enough to be in the harvester path that day, is sent into the bin. Bugs, birds, snakes, mice, staples, leaves, vine shoots, weeds all have their way of making it into the bin.
Now, I know what you’re saying… “But all that stuff gets sorted out once it arrives to the winery, right?” Well, I’m sorry to say, not exactly. If the winery has a sorting table, probably 99% of the MOG gets removed. If the winery does not have a sorting table, the destemmer does a pretty good job of kicking out the larger stuff – the twigs, stems, and fat varmints are not able to make it through the berry holes on the destemmer.
The rest of the stuff moves to a tank to be fermented or directly to the press. I won’t go into too many details, but after seeing squished mice come out of a press, you have a greater response to caring for the end product.
The bottom line is, you are probably getting what you pay for. It’s cheaper and faster to machine harvest a block of grapes, and that savings is usually passed along to the consumer. As you can see, the techniques involved in making higher quality wine deserve a bit of a higher price tag. So with the next wine you buy, don’t be afraid to ask how the wine was made to learn what’s in your wine.
From Fion: Hand Sorting after the jump.
I’m used to getting up, eating breakfast, going for my morning walk, and sleeping most of the day away. Now that the grapes are ripe… all of that has changed. Today, instead of going for my walk, I went to the winery with my family.
A big truck filled with several tons of grape bins arrived around noon. Many of my family’s friends came by, and they all spent the whole day in the winery looking at every grape cluster that was delivered. They put some of the grapes into large bins, and others go into the compost pile. They seem to be having a good time… lots of music and laughter. It is my job to keep an eye on the property and protect it while they are busy.
My family’s helpers left in the early evening, but my family continued working on hand sorting those grapes until after midnight! I kept the property safe and protected, but I am used to napping all day, so will definitely need a good night of rest tonight….