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November 11, 2009

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Art wrote: ...Hour after hour he takes the 30-40 lb. boxes of grapes as fast as they come and quickly dumps the grapes into a large bin on the trailer...

Why hand pick if you are going to dump them into a bulk one ton bin? You might as well machine harvest them.

John, many wineries that I know (and have watched harvest by hand) put the fruit into the bigger bins before processing. Some cold store them over night, some process them right away).

Obviously you're not being as delicate with the fruit if you do that, but isn't it a bit overstated to say that by doing so you're undoing the good of hand picking? I think so.

Lenn --

Why do people hand harvest? Mostly because the best wine is made from clean, cool, unbroken clusters of fruit delivered quickly to the crusher. There are other reasons of course -- less damage to the vines, or it may be physically or economically impossible to use a machine, or the style of wine being made demands hand picked fruit.

While dumping hand picked grapes in a large bin may be convenient for the grower, here's what I don't like about it.

Once the grapes are at a depth greater than six or ten inches in a bin or box, they will start being crushed by their own weight. This gives you unprotected juice in an uncontrolled environment subject to oxidation, browning, and infection. For whites, the skin contact time has started and you have one more uncontrolled variable to account for at the winery.

The heat transfer of grapes in a large bin is very poor, particularly for grapes still on the stems -- putting them in a cooler overnight may give you a bit of peace-of-mind, but it does little to slow or stop the changes induced by crushing the berries prematurely.

It's one of the many choices that are made in balancing the demands of quality, cost, and the logistics of the harvest. Is it better than machine harvesting? Maybe, maybe not -- but that's another long discussion.

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