It's the picking season
Insight into the Grape Harvesting Process in Mallorca
September marks the beginning of the small rainy season in the Balearics, bringing a welcome drop in temperatures, and making outdoor living a lot more pleasant and refreshing. It's a time for more sundowners, and perhaps even the first glass of red wine in a long time. While many regions of Spain are just starting their harvest season, here in Mallorca, vineyards have been harvesting since the end of July and many are coming to the end of their harvest now.
Harvest time has a certain romanticism attached to it, but in reality, it is nothing short of hard work, early morning starts, impromptu decision-making, and stress adaptation. Cutting bunches of grapes and placing them gently in a basket may seem easy (and ‘Instagrammable’), but the work is actually hard, sweaty, dirty, and very tough.
If you have never harvested before, I highly recommend that you do so. It's an eye-opener to the processes involved during this significant time in a winery. The grape pickers work hard, but there's a lot more activity that goes on that you may not be aware of, so let me describe some of the key processes:
To avoid heat and dehydration, picking normally starts at 5 or 6 am and ends at around 11:30 am. By picking the grapes at a lower temperature, you avoid breaking the bunches since they are still firm. The first few vines may seem easy to clip, but after a couple of hours, your arms will ache, your back will be tired, and your legs will complain after all the squatting. It's also important to wear gloves since you are entering the homes of bees, wasps, and spiders. Picking is made bearable by people singing, helping each other, or sharing their water, coffee and snacks.
The best part of the picking experience is enjoying the crisp, early morning sunrise, which can put anyone in a good mood. By noon, it's too hot to continue, so pickers normally take a break, have lunch, take a shower, and prepare for the next day.
Once the buckets or baskets are full of grapes, they have to be conveyed to the winery. This is usually done with a small vehicle that can fit between the rows of vines, such as a small tractor or a quad with a trailer. Once the tractor arrives, you load the baskets of grapes onto it. It's backbreaking work lifting all the baskets from the ground to the trailer. Careful handling and driving are also required to ensure that the grapes reach their destination safely.
After weighing the grapes, to keep accurate records for the authorities, the processing starts. This is where winemakers spend most of their time. Different kinds of processing and various types of machines are used, such as selecting tables, de-stemmers, presses, forklifts, cooling systems, pumps, and temperature-controlled vats. The grape bunches are fed along the production line, after which the fermentation process commences. At this point, the winemaker has to check regularly for various parameters to ensure the fermentation is going well and doesn't stop for any unexpected reason. Other processes (such as the pigeage) may need to be done every few hours, so dedicated winemakers may sleep near the vats or barrels to ensure work is not interrupted.
• The Final Press
With red wines, a final press has to be made before letting the wine rest or age in the desired container. This involves a lot of planning, as all the liquid has to be separated from the solid and put into a new container that has been previously cleaned and sanitised. The winemaker must ensure that they have enough containers before filling them up. This part of the job is described by some winemakers as the Tetris of winemaking.
Once all the wine is resting in its final container it may already be November, which means a short respite before the pruning season starts.
All these steps have to be done separately for every grape variety. Some wineries even do different plots at different times, repeating the procedure over and over again.
One more thing that I have to mention is the amount of cleaning and sanitising that happens in a winery - not only at the final stages, but after every picking day - from scissors to buckets, tractors and trailers, from floor to ceiling. Hygiene is crucial and one of the key factors to a successful outcome.
All of this has a direct impact on the price of your bottle, especially here in Mallorca, where most of the wineries pick by hand and work intensively and with a lot of manual labour.
With a deeper understanding of the grape harvesting process, it's easy to appreciate the effort that goes into producing wine. This understanding is essential to comprehend why wine prices in Mallorca are often higher than a 3€ bottle of industrial made supermarket plonk.
Written by Iván González Gaínza & Lara Corfield, Wine Industry Mallorca
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