The Ins and Outs of the 2017 Harvest Season

Nov 03, 2017

When you think of Fall what do you think of? That’s easy- changing leaves, apple picking, cider donuts, cozy sweaters, pumpkin farms and hayrides. If you work in the wine industry, you’re more likely to think of harvest: early morning picks, the constant hum of a tractor, grape stained fingers, and the smell of freshly pressed juice. But, they absolutely love it!

Hearing the sounds of harvest from my office window at Knapp has become second nature. I can hear the forks from the forklift clanking as it picks up a bin of freshly picked grapes as they get ready to be loaded into the crusher. The lights will dim for a split second as the generator kicks on to run the pump putting the juice into the tanks for storage. If I stand at the window, I can even watch the bins being dumped into the crusher, which is quite mesmerizing. And the smells! I will never get tired of smelling the freshly pressed grapes, even at 9am!

Everyone is curious how harvest is going. The biggest concern on everyone’s mind this year seems to focus on the wet, mild summer we had. The wetter conditions prevailed through most of July, unlike last year when we got little to no rain at all. This resulted in the vine having plenty of water to produce full, plump bunches. The dry spell that occurred in August came just in time to help improve quality and reduce problems from fungus disease. The rain this summer was also helpful in a restorative manner. After having a couple extremely cold winters, the vines needed to recuperate after having an excessive loss of quality buds. The rain we got renewed much of the growth that was lost. The overall result from the summer we had is that the area vineyards have the best crops they’ve seen since 2013!

I chatted with Dave Peterson, owner of Swedish Hill and Goose Watch wineries, about his predictions for the 2017 wine season. “The always reliable Riesling will have crisp, clean fruit flavors and should prove once again to be outstanding.” For the vineyards that were able to let the Chardonnay hang until a much later than normal harvest date, they have found that the fruit was an excellent quality. There was a concern at the end of the summer that the reds wouldn’t get ripe or that they’d have surprisingly high sugars. Although they’re still being harvested, it’s appearing as though they should be average to slightly above average in quality.

Something that piques many wine drinkers interest is handpicking vs. machine harvest. It’s all dependent on the winemaker. Reasons for handpicking can include selective picking and quality control, the desire for pressing with the stems for a flavor profile, or simply a lack of equipment. Some smaller production wineries don’t have the equipment to process machine harvested grapes. Some winemakers want machine picked because they do have the equipment to handle it, it's faster, and you can process more tons in a day. Sometimes though, Mother Nature is a deciding factor. With the warmer fall, there’s some late ripening which means the fruit needs to hang for longer in order to drop acidity and raise the sugar content, but the fruit is in jeopardy of rotting before then, and the machine is the best way to secure the grapes quality.

Harvesting isn’t always a glamourous job, either. Oftentimes, vineyard workers are asked to start harvesting at 3 or 4 in the morning. Harvesting before the sun comes up helps to keep the sugar levels stable and keeps surprises from happening during fermentation. It sounds rough but the advantage to being at work that early is getting to be in the vineyard along the lake and watching the sun come up from the top of the harvester or the seat of a tractor.

For a vineyard worker, harvest is the climactic end to what they do. It’s the reason they prune, shoot position, and spray all year. It’s literally the fruit of their labor! Once their work is done, they hand their ‘babies’ over to the winemakers to work their magic.  From the reports I’m receiving, 2017 is going to boast some beautiful and delicious wines! Cheers to each and every worker that help to make that happen!