Harvest is the most anticipated time of year on the viticultural calendar. For winemakers, this is the culmination of it all, the moment where months and months of back-breaking work will finally show the literal fruits of these dedicated producers’ labor. Wood-cutting, leaf pruning, cellar upkeep, and endless amounts of monitoring sugars and acids have finally led up to this cathartic, glorious moment where grapes will finally be plucked from their mother roots and brought back to the winery to make the magic happen. Wait, did we just say glorious? Back up for a second.
Harvest is a lot of things, though glorious is arguable. Days begin before the sun rises and finish long-after it goes down. Fingers are snipped from cutters, leaving little v-shaped scars etched into the skin. On warm days, the sun feels stronger than any Mediterranean beach could provide, beating down atop your skin with nowhere to hide; on rainy days, the cool droplets coagulate into your clothes, causing you to shiver beneath the weight of your all-too drenched jacket. Your body will constantly want to collapse beneath the never-ending fatigue. And the idea of a day off? Good luck.
As you can imagine, harvest looks different all over the world, not just from a topographical standpoint, but also from a technical one. Will the producer choose to hand-harvest fruit or implement the use of machines? Will the work remain within family and friends, or will outside labor be solicited? Should grapes be harvested the first week of the month or three weeks into it? Each winery has their own unique way of finding the answers to these questions – which in the end, is what makes harvest so fascinating.
For many, this year’s harvest began at a record-early timing. Warmer temperatures worldwide caused grapes to reach optimal ripeness levels earlier than usual, forcing many producers to begin the harvest frenzy weeks before the usual start date. Although I was planning to survey harvest in the Maconnais region of Burgundy in early-mid September, I found myself scrambling to get on the train from Paris to Macon on Monday, August 28th; harvest had officially begun that morning.
Everything they tell you about harvest (such as the statements listed above) are true; mornings are early, days are long, and the long-awaited rest of night seems to never come. Fingers bleed, knees get cut open, and the radiating pain that develops in your lower back is no joke. Seriously, friends and family will spend the evening slowly massaging the pain out of one another’s spines – just for it to come back the next morning, of course. Meals are heavy, snacking is essential, and you never, ever pass up the opportunity when someone hands you a coffee.
What they don’t tell you, though, is the emotional aspect that comes into harvest, especially amongst family members working together. I witnessed friends in the vineyard make each other laugh until they cried, soaking up the countless joys that come from working in such a tight-knit group. On the other hand, I’ve seen a father and son fight, to the point of beer bottles being thrown against cement walls, ending with one family member storming off into the cellar, vowing to never work with the other again. There isn’t a less stressful time at a winery than harvest, and as you can imagine, emotions run high.
But the joys of harvest far outweigh the dramas of what the time of year can bring. Working together to harvest what mother nature has provided us with is the most gratifying and beautiful way to connect with those around you, but to also remember the roots that bring life to our planet each and every day. Though harvest might look different with every vintage, the core values of passion and teamwork remain.