This proverb encapsulates a lot of folk wisdom, the summary of years of experience in grape growing. The grape plant takes years to become productive, sometimes generations in fact. The growth and development of the vine can take up to four years, after which the vines are put to good use.
From the end of August, the most important phase in the life of a winery generally begins, the harvest of all the hard work put in over a year of cultivation. Each terroir and each grape variety requires different timing, so the harvest will not begin at the same time throughout Italy, but sooner or later throughout the boot the ripening will come to fruition and modern panniers will overflow with fragrant grapes.
Today, as in the past, the grape harvest is also a traditional moment for agricultural realities, it holds a powerful historical and human value, inherent in sharing and in the territory.
CHE BELLO VENDEMMIARE (ITALIAN SONG)
Harvesting is the picking of the grapes in the vineyard and their subsequent transport to the cellar to begin the winemaking process: thanks to alcoholic fermentation, the must is transformed into wine.
As Pavese says, these ‘are the most beautiful days of the year. Harvesting, pressing are not even jobs; it is no longer hot, not yet cold; there are a few light clouds, we eat rabbit with polenta and go mushrooming’. Certainly the prose of the great Italian author does not emphasise the fatigue that this activity entails: harvesting means absolutely work, requiring skill and attention. But that it takes place on some of the most beautiful days of the year is beyond doubt: crossing vineyards laden with ripe bunches of grapes, enveloped in the iridescent colours prelude to autumn, is an experience that cannot be forgotten.
If you want to experience this, you can enjoy a winemaker’s march through the valley of Mezzane, one of the most hidden areas of Valpolicella. Here, the Massimago winery carries out a project born from a passion for wine combined with a love of sharing and hospitality. Camilla Rossi Chauvenet, the soul of the winery, with her team of young enthusiasts will welcome you to get to know and explore the world of wine linked to culture, history and nature.
Massimago can offer you a unique experience sipping Amarone wines of rare elegance.
Clearly, grapes must be harvested when ripe: when then? There are many parameters to consider; in fact, depending on the type of wine you want to produce, you can decide on the ideal harvest time. A non-negligible factor is the health of the grapes, determined by the climatic season they have passed.
The aim of all producers is to seek the best ratio between the concentration of sugars and acids in the grapes. As ripening progresses, the sugars in the grapes increase and the acids decrease: if, therefore, one wants to obtain a must richer in acids, as is the case for many white wines destined for sparkling the grape harvest is brought forward. If, on the contrary, one wishes to produce a must rich in sugars, the grapes must be left to ripen for longer in order to obtain wines with a high alcohol content.
Structured, intense and very tannic wines are produced by emphasising the phenolic component of the grape (i.e. polyphenols, substances present in the skin and seeds such as tannins, flavones and anthocyanins). Harvesting, again, can therefore be guided by the search for the moment of highest concentration of these substances in the grapes, the so-called phenolic ripening.
Aromatic ripening, on the other hand, represents the winemaker’s search for the greatest accumulation of aromatic substances typical of certain varieties. The concentration of these aromatic components in the skins increases with ripening: experience makes producers adept at identifying the best moment, before this aromatic richness begins to diminish.
For a better understanding of life in the winery, Tenute dei Paladini will welcome you from the first days of August, when the harvest of certain varieties begins in the Sicilian vineyards. In Marsala, Emanuela and her family have chosen to work completely organically, and this attention to the environment is fundamental to the discovery of the vineyard for those who visit them.
From the event “Risveglia i tuoi sensi” (means ‘awaken your senses’) to visits with tasting, each activity includes a real wine and food tour in the vineyard: a walk with grape picking and the chance to participate in the pressing. The perfect conclusion is a guided wine tasting accompanied by appetisers and traditional dishes from the region: an immersion in the Sicilian way of life. In this Tenuta Paladini wants to emphasise the hard work hidden behind each bottle: the values and strength that each glass contains tell that only those who believe in their own abilities, in the spirit of sacrifice and in the love for their land, can set a proper example for the generations to come.
THE ART OF HARVESTING
The harvest period is a very delicate time for the grapes, which must arrive at the winery perfectly intact: any breakage or crushing of the berries could lead to unwanted spontaneous fermentation. In the past, this process was done exclusively by hand and even today in many wineries this is the preferred method. The precision in selecting only perfectly ripe bunches, the possibility of working even in terrain that is not particularly accessible and the small size of some vineyards are factors that favour the preference for this technique.
At the Cinque Quinti winery in the heart of one of Italy’s most beautiful villages, in Monferrato, you will indeed have the chance to experience life between the rows, to pick grapes while learning the manual method: thanks to the event Vendemmia esperienziale (means ‘experiential harvest’) you will experience an all-round vineyard experience. Manual harvesting involves cutting the bunches of grapes from the stalk with special scissors and then placing them in baskets or small crates, containing around 15-20 kilos. They will explain the importance of paying attention to the quality of the bunches, discarding those attacked by mould or defects, again so as not to contaminate the future wine. The crates are then transported to the cellar, for subsequent crushing and destemming: here you will discover how this very special fruit becomes first must and then the much-loved nectar, wine. The Cinque Quinti family, consisting precisely of five brothers who have taken over the family winery, will involve you in a tasting that will make you savour the fruit of your hard work.
Sometimes the cost-benefit ratio in the production of certain wines calls for a less traditional, but more efficient process, especially when working on large areas under vines. In this case, some producers resort to mechanised harvesting, with the help of grape harvesting machines. Thanks to the ‘shakers’, the grapes are detached from the vine and fall onto special tools created for harvesting. The subsequent stages, all the way to the cellar, are also handled by special mechanical devices.
AUGUST RIPENS AND SEPTEMBER HARVESTS
This is how tradition has it, but as we have said, every area and every year is different: while the harvest is generally completed in early autumn, some producers postpone it until the onset of winter. In fact, the so-called late harvest involves leaving the grapes on the vine so that they can wither and then allow the production of sweet dessert wines. Immediately afterwards, the vine loses its leaves and goes into rest for the winter season.
This type of harvest originated in ancient times in France, where the term Vendange tardive is part of the traditional wine lexicon. In Italy, on the other hand, passito wines have historically been produced by drying the grapes after cutting from the vine. Today, this solution of prolonged maturation in the vineyard is often preferred because it produces wines with a particular freshness that is more appreciated by consumers.
To better understand the various wine-making processes, which are often the consequence of important choices made in the vineyard, you can try the experience that the Torrefornello winery offers to those who want to visit them in Val Tidone, one of the four valleys that mark the hills of Piacenza.
Exploring an area rich in history and with an extraordinary landscape, you will be immersed in nature and art, strongly enhanced by this winery, which has been collaborating for years with the Brera Academy of Fine Arts, with young emerging artists and with great masters.
Their tour with tasting is a true immersion in the life of a wine producer: starting with a walk through the rows of vines to discover the different varieties, through to a visit to the processing cellars with an explanation of the main winemaking systems. You will discover everything that has contributed to creating the wines that you will then go on to taste, because in the end even the palate wants its part!
Harvest time encompasses folk wisdom, experience and a great deal of technique: it is crucial for the future wine year, requires a great deal of energy concentrated in a short time, and becomes all-consuming for producers. The love and skill that have gone into working during the past year according to the times and methods imposed by nature see their yield here. Being able to participate is a human and cognitive enrichment, it makes us participants in an ancestral rite that has been handed down for generations, how can one miss such an opportunity?