In Tuscany, the period that goes from the end of August to the beginning of October, is the time for one the most important activities of our local culture: the harvest of wine grapes.
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.
There is not an exact date of beginning of the harvest, because atmospheric agents as rain, 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 harvest in the past
The historical and social value of the harvest dates back in the past, passing down from one generation to another through the farming customs and the traditional methods of works. 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 neighbours were working for a month all together for the same aim: the harvest and the production of a good wine. Men started early in the morning to work, to avoid the hottest hours of the day. Women prepared energizing 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 of the farm.
The end of the harvest, then, was celebrated with abundant feasts, music and dances.
Old harvest instruments
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 have a special smoothness.
Today, even if things changed, the time of harvest remains an important and crucial moment for Tuscan wineries and local economies.
Old wicker wine bottle
My harvest experience
I experienced that the harvest is a busy and nervous period in a winery. All employee works hard in the vineyard all day long. There is no time to waste. You have to be fast to avoid that grapes go bad and pick as much as quantity of the best grapes using your own hands and scissors. The small and typical wineries still use to pick grapes with hands instead of using mechanical harvesting methods. The reason is simple: a worker is able to choose the best bunches, handle them with more care and collecting them in traditional red boxes. As you can imagine, the quality of the wine will be surely better than the others.
Having the desire to tell our readers how the harvest runs, I recently visited a small winery of a friend in the area of Suvereto, on the Etruscan Coast, The Azienda Agricola I Mandorli, spending a day with workers and participating actively to 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 do not use neither pesticides nor chemical fertilizers, but natural biodynamic mixtures to improve the quality of the soil that produce the substances the grapevine needs.
Bunch of grapes
I confirm that harvest is a hard job. At the same time, I had a beautiful experience. I woke up early in the morning and I spent the whole day under the sun picking grapes along the fascinating and colored rows of the vineyards. I got easily wet because of the warm weather, the stress and the efforts. However, I loved the many colors I saw: the green of leafs, the brown of wood and the violet of grapes.
Also, I felt good being surrounded by the nature, touching the ground, breathing the fresh air and the smell of the soil and grapes, seeing the small lizards and insects around. Picking big bunches of grapes, sometimes I could not avoid to eat them, tasting the sweet flavor of the juice.
Moreover, for lunch, as our grandparents did in the past, we had a quick lunch all together before to go back to work: local cold cuts, bread, pecorino cheese and of course a glass of red wine.
If harvesting in the middle of the beautiful vineyard rows was exciting, I also enjoyed the visit of 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 into wooden or plastic tubs 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 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
A last thing that I wish to tell is about a young wine.
As you know a 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: the “Vino Novello” (new wine). It is made with a particular process, and tastes sweeter and less strong that the normal wine. Every year 6 November, the Vino Novello is officially released on the market. Indeed a law does not allow putting this wine on the market before of that date.
Experience the special Vino Novello is one good reason to visit Tuscany during the autumn. Many wine festivals celebrate the event and you’ll have the opportunity to taste it. My suggestion is to try Vino Novello together with delicious roasted chestnuts. A perfect mix that you won’t regret!!
Raise your glass of your favorite Tuscan wine and make a toast! Cin Cin.
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