Harvest Time in the Vineyards
the hot, humid days of summer appear in our rear view mirror,
we Midwesterners smile in anticipation of an Indian
summer with its cooler, blue-sky days and gentle nighttime
breezes that make us want to say “aahhh." It is one of
my favorite times of year for many reasons, but at the
of the list is harvest. Having been in the agricultural
most of my adult life, fall brings fond memories of all
the wonderful past harvests of everything from corn, soybeans,
cotton, and sugar cane to, of course, grapes.
Yes, there is something quite stimulating about being in
a vineyard or hanging around a winery during harvest. Finally,
the culmination of a full year’s worth of work is about to
yield its bounty in the form of plump, ripe grapes ready
for picking. The vineyard crews spring into action at the
first sign that the grapes are ready for harvesting, and
work diligently to fill their crates over and over again
until the last of the fruit is cut from the vines, ready
to be turned into wine.
I have been fortunate to visit many different vineyards
around the country during harvest and while the general process
is the essentially the same, specific techniques vary from
place to place. These variations are typically measured by
the different machinery and mechanical processes used. Some
of the smaller boutique wineries continue to conduct much
of the process by hand; others mix hand and machinery; while
a smaller percentage of wineries are fully automated.
There are many stages involved in converting harvested
grapes into wine. These stages vary depending upon
whether the grapes
are white or red, and on the wine maker’s personal style
and preferences, but generally, the stages appear like
• The grapes are crushed.
• The crushed grapes (known as “must”) are de-stemmed.
• Primary fermentation of the juice begins.
• Secondary fermentation occurs.
• Finally, the fermented juice (wine) is moved to barrels
(for reds and some whites) or tanks (most whites) for
While automation certainly has its value, I can attest
that by far the most fun crush method is a good old-fashioned
grape stomp just like the one you may remember from
“I Love Lucy” episode with Lucy and Ethel’s Italian
grape stomping adventure ending in madcap comedy.
it is, stomping around in a bucket of grapes, feeling
beneath your feet as you convert them to juice!
Although the ultimate “destination” remains producing
a great wine, it is the “journey” of harvest that is
the weather, the people, the fruits of labor, and the
sharing of food, drink, and stories happening at every
harvest time. It is a truly a celebration of the year’s
If you are adventuresome, there is even a way for you to
be directly involved in harvest. Many smaller wineries will
welcome your participation and assistance in the grape picking
process, so just pick up the telephone and contact them for
There is really no better fun than to enjoy a wine you had
a part in producing, so get out and make this fall a special
one by visiting a local winery and enjoy the truly great
adventures it has to offer – I know you will not be disappointed!