Grape harvest with a harvest machine (tractor)
A winegrower can either harvest manually with people in the vineyard, or do mechanical harvest with a machine. Mechanical harvest is done with a dedicated harvester or with a module attached to a vineyard tractor.
Is manual harvest better than machine?
The received wisdom is that manual harvest is better. The romanticism around vineyards often makes people think so. We have even heard some supposedly serious wine taster claim that he could taste the difference between hand-harvested and machine-harvested wines. Not very likely.
Many vine growers say that it is better to harvest with machine. In reality it is not simple. It is a question of circumstances and the conditions under which the winery works. Manual harvest can be gentler with the grape bunches and permits for some selection in the vineyard. Machine harvest also permits a selection of the grapes, both because the machine, if well adjusted, can leave unripe grapes on the vine; it can also be equipped with a grape sorting mechanism. A machine makes it possible to harvest much faster, at optimum ripeness and you can even harvest grapes at night, a benefit in very hot climates (difficult with manual harvest). The machine is expensive but if the vineyard is big it can be much cheaper to harvest with tractor. 60% of French wine is machine harvested.
The harvesting machine works by straddling the row of vines and then shaking the vines with bars mounted on each side of the vine. Ripe grapes fall off the vine and land on a plastic or rubber conveyor belt close to the ground. The conveyor belt works a bit like a zipper. It transports the grapes to a container. The grape stems (‘la rafle’) are left on the vine.
This is just a short introduction to a subject that is treated in depth in our book The Creation of a Wine (“Ett vin blir till”).
A video on machine harvesting
A slide show on harvesting with a tractor
This post is also available in: Swedish