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September is grape month: the harvests begin

The joy of autumn for wine lovers

September is grape month: the harvests begin

Date of publication: 07/09/2022

In the world of wine, the month of September is imbued with magic: the arrival of autumn marks the beginning of the grape harvest. In Italy especially, this period is replete with harvest festivals and ancient traditions that are full of anthropological significance. Summer is ending, but don't worry, with the right wines you can go back on holiday!

When is the harvest period?

Harvest time is certainly very exciting: after a year of hard work in the vineyards, the grapes are finally gathered. Although it often coincides with the month of September, the harvest period across Italy varies according to several determining factors: the type of wine you want to obtain, the climatic conditions, and the degree of ripeness of the grapes. If you want to obtain a wine that enhances acidity, the ideal time for harvesting is when the grapes are not yet fully ripe: in this case, we are talking about an early harvest. 

With the passage of time and with a greater ripeness of the grapes, the acid levels in the grapes decrease while the sugars increase: for most wines these conditions are the best time for harvesting and for successful winemaking. Sweet and passito wines that are enjoyed at the end of a meal require very ripe grapes with a high sugar intake: the ripening process of grapes for wines such as the Montepulciano d'Abruzzo DOC "Collection" will therefore be prolonged, leading to a late harvest. Sometimes, however, the weather conditions in hot and dry years can lead to a premature ripening of the grapes, with an early harvest that begins even at the end of July – beginning of August. The grape harvest thus has a variable annual cadence which can extend from July to November.

The right ripening of grape

Before the advent of technology, winemakers had only their experience and knowledge to understand the right ripening stage of grapes and thus avoid the production of low-quality wine. Nowadays, scientific and technological progress offers winemakers tools for determining the ideal ripening of grapes. There are three types of ripening:

  • Technological maturation: indicates the level of balance between the acids and sugars present in the grape, taking into account also the concentration of aromas and tannins; it represents the optimal time for harvest;
  • Phenolic maturation: occurs when the polyphenols present in the grape skins reach their maximum level, determining the concentration of tannins in the grapes, and the structure and colour of the wines. All these aspects are fundamental, especially with regard to great red wines such as Barolo DOCG;
  • Aromatic ripeness: indicates the grapes have reached the maximum accumulation of aromas, a concentration which would decrease with excessively long maturation. The aromatic aspect is the most sought-after for white  and sparkling wines.

Winemakers observe the ripening curves of the grapes and use professional tools such as the refractometer, an optical instrument that shows the level of sugars in grapes through light, to help them determine the ideal time for the harvest.

How does the harvest take place?

Once the grapes have reached their ideal ripeness, the delicate phase of the harvest begins: there are many precautions to be taken to prevent the grapes from fermenting spontaneously before reaching the winery. The harvest must not be wet and must not be carried out during the hottest hours of the day. In addition, a certain delicacy is required during the harvest, in order to protect the grapes from being damaged and releasing their juice. Accordingly, the harvest can take place in two ways: manually, as in the case of Organic Chardonnay Puglia IGP, or with the help of special machines.

Manual harvest

As the name suggests, manual harvesting refers to the gathering of grapes by hand. We do not resort to mechanical tools, but rely exclusively on the expertise of winemakers, who carefully examine the grapes and then cut them off the vine with special scissors. The harvest is then gently placed in special small containers that carry a maximum of 15-20 kg of grapes, which the harvesters then transport to the wineries to begin the winemaking process. The harvest usually starts with white grapes, as in the case of the Vermentino "Terre Siciliane" IGT, whose grapes are harvested by hand starting from mid-September. The manual harvest is the best option in small vineyards, as well as being the only option allowed by the specifications of some DOC and DOCG

Mechanical harvest

The mechanized approach to harvesting involves the use of special harvesting machines that use "beaters" to shake the vine, causing the grapes to detach from the peduncles. The grapes are then carried on conveyor belts to the storage depot. The market offers different types of harvesting machines that reduce the costs of harvesting: they can be towed or self-propelled, and they carry out vertical or horizontal shaking depending on the method of cultivation of the vine and the size of the vineyard.  

The most advanced harvesting machines are even able to move on to the next level of the harvest, the sorting stage when the grapes are separated from waste such as damaged leaves or berries. 

Once the harvest is over, the winemakers proceed with the actual vinification of the grapes, to delight us with countless fine wines. Taste them all with Giordano Wines!

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