vendange manuelle ou mécanique

Everything you need to know about manual and mechanical harvesting

After spending all summer under the sun, the grapes from French vineyards are full of sugar, and are ready to be picked. There are then two techniques: manual harvesting or mechanical harvesting . Focus on these two grape picking methods used by winegrowers.

Everything you need to know about manual harvesting

Wine has been made in France for millennia. Winegrowers then had the habit of picking the grapes by hand . A technique which continues today, despite the invention of adapted machines.

The principle of manual harvesting

Manual harvesting simply involves harvesting the grape clusters by hand . The picker then uses pruning shears to cut the stem, before placing the bunch in a harvest bucket. Once full, this harvest bucket is dumped into the carrier's hood, who will in turn empty it into a trailer. Some winegrowers also require the bunches to be delicately placed in a box, to preserve the quality of the grapes .

This hand harvesting technique can be guided by a deep conviction of the oenologist, or by a few constraints:

  • For wines from carbonic maceration, where the harvest of whole clusters is required;
  • For producers of sparkling wine, such as Champagne;
  • For the production of sweet wines requiring very selective sorting of the berries.

The advantages and disadvantages of hand harvesting

This type of manual harvest is often a considered choice by the winegrower. There are, in fact, many advantages:

  • A quality wine : the harvester can select each berry, to keep only the highest quality grape berries, which have reached perfect maturity and are disease-free. This then presages a wine of very high quality and makes it possible to produce great wines;
  • A technique that respects the vine : by picking each fruit by hand, the vines are not brutalized or weakened. This can be seen, among other things, in the lifespan of a vine, which is longer in manual harvesting.

But harvesting by hand is not always a choice, since it is imposed in certain wine-growing regions, and it can also be a constraint in some respects.

  • Personnel difficult to recruit : grape pickers are sometimes difficult to find, as the work is tough, and the labor code imposes more and more constraints, even if there is a seasonal contract specific to the grape harvest;
  • A very high cost : hiring grape pickers is very expensive and requires a lot of staff.

Everything you need to know about mechanical harvesting

More modern and faster, mechanical harvesting is proving to be an economical and practical solution for winegrowers.

The principle of mechanical harvesting

Mechanical harvesting consists of picking the grapes using a harvesting machine . She will then pass over the rows of vines by stepping over them, and shake her foot with two arms to make the grapes fall. The berries then fall onto a mobile collection belt, where a vacuum cleaner will remove the remaining branches, plants and insects, leaving only the fruit. These are then placed in a storage hopper, before being transported to the cellar.

This vineyard tractor can offer different options, such as sorting grapes according to their size.

The advantages and disadvantages of mechanical harvesting

Mechanical harvesting in turn presents significant advantages for wine producers who are authorized to use it in their vineyards:

  • Fast harvests : for comparison, a grape harvester picks grapes as quickly as 30 grape pickers;
  • Flexible harvests : here, no work code or rhythm to respect, the machine is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week;
  • Less expensive harvests : the purchase of the machine quickly pays for itself and largely offsets the cost of labor.

Of course, mechanical harvesting also has disadvantages, particularly for wine and vineyards:

  • Very rough sorting of the grapes : the machine does little or no sorting. It takes away everything, quality grains as well as diseased, unripe or overripe ones;
  • A mishandled vine : the machine shakes the vines, which greatly weakens them and reduces the quality of the grapes over the years;
  • Asphyxiated soil : the weight of the machine in the vineyard crushes the soil, compacting it and asphyxiating it, which destroys the microbial life favorable to the vines;
  • Early oxidation : the brutality of the machine bursts certain grapes which, on contact with air, begin the oxidation process.

Not all vineyards are free to choose their harvest technique . And when they have the choice, it is common to find better wines from manual harvests, but this is not systematic. At Château de Berne, we choose to pick the grapes by hand , to preserve all their qualities and protect the terroir.

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