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A short History of the Harvest

Updated: Sep 5, 2023



Renowned for their friendliness, the harvest is a very special period for the winegrower who sees the culmination of a year of work in the vines, and at that time makes crucial decisions for the quality of his future vintage. This stage in the cultivation of the vine and the production of wine has existed for millennia.

Indeed, the harvest does not date from yesterday: the term would come from "vendémiaire" which is the month of September-October in the republican calendar of 1792. But long before that, the first traces of cultivated vines and therefore of grape harvest date back to the Bronze Age (about -2200 to -800 BC) in Israel and Palestine. At that time we no longer spoke of picking by nomadic populations, but of cultivation and harvesting by sedentary groups.

Later in France, traces dating from the Iron Age (about -800 to -52 BC) were found in Vaucluse, Hérault and Gard. This culture of the vine gave rise to the harvest; ie the planned harvest of grapes to make wine. Besides, if it's for table grapes, we're not talking about the harvest. These are also subject to strict rules, in particular concerning the start date and the harvesting conditions.


Historically, it was the publication of the banns des vendanges that launched hostilities and gave rise to very convivial celebrations to mark the start of the harvest. That said, once the ban was published, it was up to the winemaker to decide for his plots when the harvest was going to begin, based on the acidity and sugar of his grape berries. Even today there are still some annual harvest festivals, such as those of Montmartre or Banyuls.


THE HARVEST IN BURGUNDY



The grape harvest in Burgundy traditionally takes place in September, generally during the first fortnight.


The Harvest in Burgundy, 100 days after Flowering We can predict the date of the harvest in Burgundy about three months in advance, or at least the week during which the start of the harvest will take place. Indeed, it is from flowering that a regular cycle begins, lasting about 100 days. At the end of these 100 days, the grapes are ripe and ready to be harvested. This 100-day period can be reduced by around 10% if the summer period turns out to be hot and sunny, which has an accelerating effect on the development of the bunches and their maturity in August. On the contrary, this period can be extended by a few days if the weather is cooler, less sunny, and ultimately less clement. As for flowering, it traditionally takes place at the end of May or the beginning of June. The harvest in Burgundy will automatically begin in the south, that is to say the Mâconnais and will gradually go up through the Côte Châlonnaise, the Côte de Beaune, the Côte de Nuits to end in the Chablisien and the Auxerrois. The first vines to be harvested will be the vines whose grapes are intended for the production of Crémants de Bourgogne. In general, for the production of sparkling wines, the harvested grapes must not be too ripe and have a good acidity. It is this acidity that guarantees a very nice effervescence during the elaboration. Each winegrower, each estate decides, according to its vines, the date of the start of the harvest. It is nevertheless based on analyzes that have become extremely precise by taking into account dozens of parameters that did not exist before. Among these: the various minerals, acids…sugars contained in the clusters at the heart of the vines.


Manual Harvesting and Machine Harvesting Two types of harvest have coexisted for a long time: manual harvesting, pruning shears in hand, and machine harvesting carried out by a single person. Machine harvesting has evolved a lot. It is carried out using a particular tractor which, without going into details, shakes the vine and causes the detachment of the berries which are collected and temporarily stored in side tanks. Harvesting by machine requires a vine whose rows are perfectly straight, strong and very rigid stakes. It is for this reason that old vines are not always suitable for this method. If the winegrower has a modern machine, and he takes his time to make all the adjustments, his machine will be able to harvest only the ripe berries, knowing that any rotten berries will come off before falling on the conveyor belt which goes collect the fruit. As for the berries that are not ripe enough, they will not come off and will remain attached to the vine. It's all a matter of setting. In addition, the machine does not know fatigue, it can perform its task day and night...


The Hand Harvest remains for many a Traditional Harvest But, just like the machine, it requires conditions that are not always easy to meet or obtain. The first of these conditions is to have a team of pickers, many of whom have already carried out this task and will therefore have a minimum of training and knowledge. Once the team is formed, it will be essential to have a good team leader who will be able to explain, effectively train new pickers to pick only grapes that are sufficiently ripe, teach them an effective technique and know how to manage physical fatigue. Unfortunately, some pickers give up on the first day... A motivated team of pickers, with a good team leader, in ideal weather conditions, without rain, can do a great job. On the other hand, a disorganized team, in disastrous climatic conditions, will carry out a catastrophic harvest by picking up everything and anything without care. The winegrower will then return to his vats an unfortunately altered raw material. In Burgundy, it is in the North and the South of the region that you can see the most harvesting machines, just like in the plain where the back-coasts, the Hautes Côtes de Beaune, the Hautes Côtes de Nuits where the Couchois. Today, harvesting machines are very modern and efficient. Many winegrowers own one and carry out part of their harvest with these machines. They also maintain a small team of experienced and motivated pickers to harvest the most prestigious plots and plots whose vines are relatively old, whose rows are not sufficiently aligned to perform this task with the machines.


The Importance of Sorting But whatever the method used, it is important to carry out a sorting either in the vineyard, or by machine, or on conveyor belt tables in the winery. It is essential to eliminate everything that we could not eat. It is therefore necessary to eliminate all the grapes which may be rotten or not ripe, the plant parts such as the leaves... The latest sorting tables are extremely modern. They have the technique of optical sorting via cameras that track all unwanted elements and eliminate them automatically. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages and each year will give preference to one or the other depending on the circumstances and the condition of the grapes.

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