Wine harvest seemed to emerge during the early 1900s. However, historians believe this traditional technique spans even further, back to the time before Christ was born.
However, before we get to the history of this technique, let’s define vendemmia.
What Is Vendemmia? Wine Harvest Explained
Romans are believed to use this technique to ferment grape juice. Grapes were a prized possession at every banquet table, so it’s no wonder they started fermenting grape juice.
The word vendemmia is an Italian word that means harvest. Specifically, it means harvesting grapes.
As the story goes, vendemmia is derived from vendémiaire. Vendémiaire comes from an ancient language that was used during the medieval era. The term refers to a time on the French calendar (September) when grapes were harvested.
As with any compelling story, there is some debate about the origins of vendemmia.
The Italians do not agree with the French version of the story. They believe they discovered vendemmia because it comes from the Latin term Vinum e demia.
Vinum means wine, and demia comes from the word demere, which means to take. So, it specifically mentions harvesting grapes to turn them into wine.
What Happens During Wine Harvest?
Harvesting grapes is a complicated, tedious job. During the harvest season, farmers monitor their grapes closely at each stage of development.
As the grapes mature, they become sweeter. The amount of acidity decreases and the amount of sugars will increase. The higher the sugar levels, the higher the level of alcohol in the wine.
Back in the day, winemakers would crush grapes by stepping on them. However, due to modern technology, winemakers use wine presses to crush the grapes. The grapes are picked, sorted, and placed into barrels to ferment.
Typically yeast consumes sugar and turns it into alcohol. However, too much sugar can drastically affect the yeast, making it much harder for fermentation to start. Winemakers are meticulous about the ferment as they carefully select the ratio of sugar to grape must ensure the process runs smoothly.
Once the wine is fermented, it is poured into large cylindrical glass bottles and allowed to sit until it is bottled and taken to its final destination.
Mechanical Picking vs. Handpicking
Whether to use a machine or hand-pick grapes is a hot topic within the world of wine. Mechanical harvesting came around in the 1960s. Winemakers adapted these machines into their routine to minimize costs and for economic and labor reasons.
Mechanical grape harvesters are designed with rubber sticks that gently hit the vine. The grapes drop onto a conveyor belt and are transferred to a holding bin.
Mechanical harvesters could not tell the difference between mud leaves and other materials. However, technological advances have fixed this.
Nevertheless, there are many disadvantages of mechanical harvesting. The machines cannot tell the difference between ripe and unripe or rotten grapes, so the grapes must be sorted at the facility.
The grape skins could also be damaged, causing maceration, which is not ideal for white and sparkling wines.
In contrast, harvesting grapes by hand costs more. However, pickers can use their expertise and discretion to pick the healthiest grapes.
Human hands are also much softer than any machine. For example, grapes are picked from botrytized bunches to produce some types of dessert wines, and this can only be done by hand.
What Months Are Harvest Season?
Vendemmia is a tricky business as the hardest part is knowing when to start the harvest. Although the wine harvest builds lots of excitement, it does not have an exact date.
Winemakers use their expertise and discretion to decide when their vendemmia will start.
Some vineyards allow the public to participate in vendemmia. Even though you can book in advance, there may still be some waiting time involved. The grapes determine when the harvest will start, not the winemaker.
Nevertheless, the time for vendemmia can vary based on the region. For example, vendemmia occurs in Southern Italy in September. In contrast, winemakers wait until November to start the harvest in Northern Italy.
It can also depend on which hemisphere you are in. In the Nothern hemisphere, grapes are harvested between August and October. However, grapes are harvested from February to April in the Southern hemisphere.
Nevertheless, since many conditions can impact the harvest, such as the varietal, style of wine, and climate, it’s safe to say grapes winemakers across the globe can pick grapes any month of the year.
Vedemmia is a special time of year for any vineyard. It is probably the most anticipated time since you have to wait for the grapes to reach the right stage of ripeness before picking them. So the next time you purchase a bottle of harvest wine, enjoy it for yourself and the people who participated in the vendemmia.