From Vine to Vino: Part 1
Behind the scenes at harvesttime
The grape harvest season is the moment every winemaker works towards each year. The fruit hanging on their vines in the late summer and autumn is the result of a year of labor that includes everything from pruning and irrigation to canopy management and grape testing.
Choosing the precise day the grapes are ready for harvest is one of the most critical parts of a winemaker’s job. They examine the grapes meticulously and keep an eagle eye on the weather forecast before making the important decision to begin the harvest. One day too early or too late can make all the difference in the quality of the fruit brought into the winery.
Experience helps! Fortunately, there’s plenty of that at Cantina del Vesuvio, handed down through generations of wine-making. In this blog, we’re excited to share the story of our 2023 harvest for our red and white wine you enjoy so much.
Grape quality and quantity
In the world of wine, September is a month full of magic and excitement for the winegrowers as wine production can finally begin. This is the traditional month that marks the start of the grape harvest, one of the most iconic moments in the wine-making process.
In Italy, depending on the region and the grape variety, the grape harvest season takes place from September to October and sometimes even in November.
At Cantina del Vesuvio, it’s an intensely busy time because, in total, we have 18 hectares to harvest! We usually start the harvest of our white grapes Caprettone around the middle of September. For the black grapes Piedirosso and Aglianico, we need to wait until the middle to the end of October as it’s necessary to wait for the season to cool down to reach the right level of ripeness in the grapes.
The quantity of fruit produced varies from year to year, depending on factors that include weather. This year, we had a lower yield than average. This phenomenon has been echoed across many European vineyards in part because of the summer heatwaves and the stress they placed on vines.
At Cantina del Vesuvio, the volume of our Caprettone grapes is down around 50% compared to last year. Piedirosso and Aglianico grapes have fared a little better with a drop of around 30%. There’s a silver lining to the decrease though; this lower production has driven up the concentration of sugars in the grapes, offering us extraordinary quality.
Every vigneron will tell you that serious wine-making begins in the vineyard with the cultivation of top-grade fruit. This gives a winemaker loads of scope in the winery to craft the most finessed and delicious wines. Our grape quantity may be down in 2023, but the quality is priceless!
Perfect timing: manual harvesting
In line with our organic approach, we choose to harvest our grapes by hand in place of aggressive, less selective mechanical harvesting techniques.
Hand-picking involves a great deal of time and energy. However, manual harvesting ensures that the grapes are carefully selected according to their ripeness and quality. They’re picked bunch by bunch and gently placed into plastic baskets that hold a set quantity. This prevents any unnecessary pressure on the grapes at the bottom of the container, avoiding splitting and unwanted oxidation.
Fortunately, our vineyards are located close to the winery so we can transport our fruit immediately for vinification. This quick trip maintains the freshness and unique character of every grape which, in turn, leads to quality wine.
As well as harvesting by hand, timing for picking is crucial to retain fruit quality. Grape harvest must begin when the right balance of ripeness (thanks to sugars) and acidity. When these fruit features are perfect, it allows us to obtain a high-quality wine without resorting to oenological tricks. Therefore, keeping our organic viticulture processes in mind, we monitor the sugar index and acidity of the grapes on a daily basis in the lead-up to harvest. We judge the fruit ready to start picking right away, once the desired balance is reached.
Usually, the white grape harvest takes place at the beginning of September. The black grapes are picked at the end of September (possibly, the beginning of October). This year, however, the harvest was quite late compared to the usual timing. We started harvesting the white on September 26th and we expect to harvest the red around October 20th.
This is because during April, May, and June we had continuous rains and lower average temperatures which delayed the flowering of the vines. This, consequently, impacted the growth path of the grapes.
To obtain a high-quality product it's necessary to harvest at the right moment of maturation. You have to be extremely quick to avoid missing the optimal moment. Even an atmospheric shift in the vineyard can change the situation.
Every year is different! This is what makes grape growing and wine-making such fascinating and satisfying arts.
In part II of this newsletter, we’ll look at our valued harvest team, the importance of an early start, and the phases of vinification in the winery.