In Tuscany, from the end of August to the beginning of October is the time for one the most important activities of our local culture. I am talking about the wine grape harvest. The harvest is the first step of the process that allows our wineries to produce the excellent wines that made Tuscany famous all over the world.
The Grape Harvest
When Does the Grape Harvest Take Place?
There is no exact date for the beginning of the harvest. Atmospheric agents such as rain, and hot or cold weather, also influence the decision of when the harvest should start. However, generally, the harvest takes place during this period because grapes reach the desired ripeness. It means that the balance between sugars and acids is perfect for the style of wine that a winemaker wishes to produce.
The Grape Harvest in the Past
The historical and social value of the harvest dates back to the past, passing down from one generation to another through farming customs and traditional methods of work. I remember all the stories and anecdotes that my grandparents used to tell me about the period of the harvest.
The harvest in Tuscany was the Event of the year and a time of social communion in each village. All men and women of the family, friends, and neighbors were working for a month together for the same aim: the harvest and the production of good wine.
Men started early in the morning to work, to avoid the hottest hours of the day. Women prepared energetic meals to enjoy all together under the shadow of a tree or directly in the cellar. Even children were helping their parents when they were not playing with the animals on the farm. The end of the harvest, then, was celebrated with abundant feasts, music, and dances.
A traditional and unique moment of the harvest was the pressing of the grapes into the wooden tub, usually made by feet. Although it is not used anymore, it is considered the best way of pressing because it is light and soft. The must is cleaner and the wine has a special smoothness. Today, even if things changed, the time of harvest remains an important and crucial moment for Tuscan wineries and local economies.
My Harvest Experience
I have experienced that the harvest period is an intense and nervous time in a winery. All employees work hard in the vineyard all day long. There is no time to waste. You have to be quick to keep the grapes from going bad and harvest as many of the best grapes as possible using your own hands and scissors.
Typical small wineries still use to harvest grapes with their hands instead of using mechanical harvesting methods. The reason is simple. A worker is able to pick the best grapes, handle them with greater care, and harvest them in the traditional red crates. As you can imagine, the quality of the wine will definitely be better than others.
Having the desire to tell our readers how the grape harvest runs, I recently visited a small winery in the area of Suvereto, on the Etruscan Coast, the Azienda Agricola I Mandorli. I spent a day with workers and participated actively in the harvest. They produce two different biodynamic single-variety wines, one Sangiovese and one Cabernet.
A reason why I chose to visit them is that they use neither pesticides nor chemical fertilizers. They work with natural biodynamic mixtures to improve the quality of the soil that produces the substances the grapevine needs.
A Day in the Vineyard
I can confirm that harvesting is hard work. At the same time, I had a beautiful experience. I woke up early in the morning and spent the whole day under the sun picking grapes along the charming and colorful rows of vineyards. I got wet easily because of the heat, stress, and exertion. However, I loved the many colors I saw: the bright green of the leaves, the hard brown of the wood, and the deep purple of the grapes. Also, I felt good surrounded by nature. I touched the ground with my hands. I breathed the fresh morning air and smelled the aromas of the ground and of the grapes. Besides, I could observe the small lizards and insects around me.
Picking large bunches of grapes, sometimes I couldn’t help but eat them, savoring the sweet taste of the juice. Also, for lunch, as our grandparents did in the past, we all had a quick lunch together before going back to work. On the table at our disposal were local cold cuts, bread, pecorino cheese, and, of course, a glass of red wine.
The Wine Cellars
If harvesting in the middle of the beautiful vineyard rows was exciting, I also enjoyed the visit to the cellar. I found this place fascinating and charming. It’s here that the process of winemaking goes on. The primary fermentation, the alcoholic one, takes place in wooden or plastic tubs with plenty of grapes. The funny thing is that if you get closer to the plenty vats, you hear like a sizzle: yeasts are working, transforming the sugars into ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide.
Then with the pressing and the fermentation we obtain the must, a mixture of grape skins and sweet juice that seems a bit sparkling. At the end of the day, the enologist also explained to me the complete process of winemaking. For a wine lover like me, it has been such an interesting lesson knowing how the must become wine. However, I will talk about it in another post.
The Vino Novello
The last thing that I wish to tell you is about a young wine. As you may know, wine requires a long time to be ready. But there is a special wine that comes out only a month after the end of the harvest. This is the Vino Novello (new wine) and is made with a particular process. It tastes sweeter and less strong than normal wine.
Every year 6 November, the market officially releases the Vino Novello. Indeed, there is a law that does not allow wineries to place this wine on the market before that date. Tasting a glass of Vino Novello is one reason to visit Tuscany in autumn. Many wine festivals celebrate the event and you’ll have the opportunity to taste it. My suggestion is to try it together with delicious roasted chestnuts. A perfect mix that you won’t regret!
Raise the glass of your favorite Tuscan wine and make a toast! Cin Cin.