Vineyard Operations: The Harvest

Vineyard Operations: The Harvest

Harvest is the highlight of vineyard operations. It is the most delicate and important moment of the year, when all qualitative efforts carried out in the previous months reach their completion.

In the past centuries, harvest has been considered as a collective ritual: an event accompanied by feasts and celebrations that still thrive in popular culture, songs and folk dances. Harvest is a traditional rite that is renewed year after year: it must be carefully prepared after reaping the grapes and attentively organized based on the thorough analysis of climatic conditions and maturation of the bunches. The magic of harvest can be explained by what the ancient Greeks referred to as kairos, which means «favorable moment»: a restricted period of time in which conditions are ideal for performing whichever task at hand, in an excellent manner. Harvest means collecting perfectly ripe grapes that can bring out the finest varietal characteristics in the glass.

Conditions for harvest

The production of outstanding wine requires the use of perfectly healthy, whole and ripe grapes. The berries should be intact and crunchy, without any traces of sunburn, mold or insect damage, presenting vigorous bunches that have reached complete maturation. Maturity is an essential element of harvest: the most important indicator for determining the harvesting period. But how is grape maturity identified?

Technical maturity

Technical maturity is determined by the ratio between sugar and acidic content of the grapes: the goal is to reach an ideal proportion among the two elements. Grapes near technical maturity have higher sugar levels and lower acidic content, especially the strong and sour malic acid. To obtain a more acidic must (as is the case of base wines destined for Alta Langa Docg Duchessa Lia), grapes must be harvested in advance. For wine musts with higher sugar levels, perfect for the production of more alcoholic wines (like Barbera d’Asti Docg Duchessa Lia), the grapes must ripen for a longer period of time.

Phenolic maturity

Another element that helps in identifying the perfect level of grape ripeness is phenolic maturity. The term phenolic refers to the various elements that measure the quantity and type of polyphenols contained in the grape, particularly in the skin and in the seeds: wine color and tannins depend on polyphenols. Phenolic content increases as the grapes are left to age, yielding highly structured and more tannic wines. This is the case of Nebbiolo grapes used for Barolo and Barbaresco Duchessa Lia, which are the last to be harvested, around the second part of October. 

Aromatic maturity

Last but not the least, we should also mention aromatic maturity, which is taken into consideration for «aromatic» wines such as Moscato d’Asti Docg and Brachetto d’Acqui Docg Duchessa Lia. Grape varietal aromas are determined by substances that are called terpenes. These substances tend to accumulate during maturation, only to decrease as ripening goes on. Aromatic maturity is measured by constantly tasting the grapes: it must be properly regulated in order to obtain the ideal expression.

The seasons count

Grapes destined for white and aromatic wines are collected before the red ones in order to preserve aromas and acidity, but harvest also greatly depends on climate. Hot and dry seasons, like what we are currently experiencing, urge winegrowers to harvest all varieties in advance to avoid excessive sugar concentration, which would lead to higher alcohol content. Wet and cold seasons, which were much more common in the past, can prolong the time of the harvest until late November. Let’s not forget that «Nebbiolo», the variety used for Barolo and Barbaresco, gained its name because the grapes were harvested when the «nebbia» (lit. mist) of November came: in the past, grapes slowly reached maturation because temperatures were lower.

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