VINTAGE is the lively time of year when the grapes are harvested, usually between Summer and Autumn. Vintage is the sum of a year’s hard work, with all invested in good weather, exciting quality fruit and a bit of luck. Award winning wines begin with a skilful vigneron.
The fruit can be harvested either by hand or mechanical harvester. Hand picking usually occurs early in the morning, in order to avoid the intense heat of midday sun. Hand picking is fairly gentle on the vines, everyone gets a set of snips and a bucket and you go along the rows, one person either side of the row, until your bucket is full. A “bucket boy” (a prized position) quickly exchanges your full bucket for an empty one and tosses the fruit into the “grape bin”, which is being carted by a tractor.
When hand harvesting, it can be difficult to get in close to the row and wrestle with the vine canes to get at the plump juicy fruit. In summer, there is also dense leaf foliage, which can be difficult to see the other side. Grape-picking in the Hunter Valley is a fun, social experience shared by those who were game enough to wage against the heat, and wrestle with the vines drenched in perspiration and juice. Sometimes, it’s simply just the determination to beat the weather to the perfect quality fruit.
The alternative is a mechanical harvester. It requires an initial outlay for the machine, ongoing maintenance and one person to drive it. Mechanical harvesting runs through the rows and shakes the berries off the vines. It is often done at night after a full day of ripening to optimise the sugars. It can be done quickly if it looks like rain.
Once harvested by hand or mechanical harvester, the grapes are taken to the winery where they are crushed and de-stemmed. The resulting juice called “must” which may contain juice, skins and seeds is now ready for fermentation. This will journey its way through to become our finest Hunter Valley Wines.