It’s Never Too Early to Start Thinking about Harvest

By: Denise M. Gardner

While most of us are in the thick of the grape growing season, the start of harvest will be knocking on our doors all too soon.  Preparing for harvest can never start early enough!  Below is a list of recommendations for growers and winemakers to consider during prior to the harvest season.

Winemaking Supplies

July is just around the corner, which means that many wine supply companies are about to offer “Free Shipping in July” specials.  Not only is this a cost savings opportunity for many wineries, but it also provides a chance for winemakers to adequately plan for their fermentation needs.

Check with your current supplier to evaluate options for shipping and potential new products to incorporate into your winemaking portfolio.

Berry Sensory Analysis

Ironically, I found 2 articles in the July 2015 edition of Wine Business Monthly (WBM) related to why berry sensory analysis is important to both growers and winemakers.  The method first introduced to the wine industry by the Institut Francais de la Vigne et du Vin (IFV), has been integrated into wine regions throughout the world.  If you are lucky enough to obtain a copy of Monitoring the Winemaking Process from Grapes to Wine: Techniques and Concepts, you’ll find detailed instructions on vineyard sampling, matching grape ripening characteristics to the future wine, and an explanation on berry sensory analysis (pg. 27).

Seed evaluation - visual and taste

Seed evaluation – visual and taste

Berry sensory analysis involves analyzing the component parts of the berry (skin, pulp, and seeds) separately – both visually and through a sensory evaluation – to monitor ripeness of berries beyond the capabilities of many other analytical techniques.  It is not a method which involves selecting a berry or two from a cluster, popping them into one’s mouth, and giving a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” evaluation to ripeness.  There is a strategic approach, including proper vineyard sampling, to evaluate ripeness.

In fact, berry sensory analysis goes beyond measuring the typical analyses (Brix, pH, TA) to indicate ripeness.   While the sensory technique may appear complicated at first, it can easily be mastered – quickly – with a little practice and good use of record keeping.

As noted by Mark Greenspan in his recent July 2015 WBM article, “Harvest: The Final Vineyard Decision,” many winemakers find it daunting to go out into a vineyard and regularly monitor the sensory changes affiliated with grape berry ripening.  Therefore, this offers an unique opportunity for growers and winemakers to work together.  Either both parties can learn the proper techniques affiliated with berry sensory analysis and switch regular responsibilities affiliated with recording ripeness development, or growers can adequately sample vineyards and routinely deliver berries to the winemaker.  Evaluating berries together allows for open communication between growers and winemakers in terms of sensory expectations for a given variety.

Need more information on berry sensory analysis before diving into a more formal training process?  Look no further!

2006 WBM article by Mark Greenspan titled, “Assessing Ripeness Through Sensory Evaluation”

2006 Wines & Vines article by Thomas Pellechia titled, “A Better Berry Evaluation?”

Curious about the berry sensory analysis technique?  Check out these explanations and protocols:

“Method for Sensory Analysis of Grapes” on the University of Minnesota Enology Blog

“Berry Sensory Analysis” by Bruce Zoecklein from the Enology Grape Chemistry Group at Virginia Tech

Finalize Grower and Juice Broker Contracts

The issue of grape negotiations comes up every harvest season.  While many individuals in the industry still use a common handshake or acknowledgement of a deal through a phone call to confirm grape sales or purchases, I annually hear stories from both parties indicating a lack of satisfaction regarding harvest deals.

It is important to recognize that growers and winemakers have two different end goals in mind by the end of a growing season.  Obviously, this can create points of tension in any negotiation if one party’s goals are not met to their liking.

In order to mediate many of these negotiations, the use of contracts between growers and wineries is often recommended.

eXtension has a document, written by Chris Lake, regarding the definition of grape and winery contracts, the end goals pertaining to both parties, and the essential topics of coverage related to a contract, which can be found here: http://www.extension.org/pages/62146/contracts-between-wineries-and-growers#.VYrlK_lVhBc.  Additionally, Chris has listed several resources for more information for those that are interested in developing future contracts.

Bruce Zoecklein from Virginia Tech’s Enology Grape Chemistry Group has also developed a sample contract available for grower and winery use.

Preparing the Cellar and Lab

The summer months are perfect opportunities for wineries to engage in harvest preparation.  These prep steps include:

  • Finishing up bottling to allocate space for the incoming new material
  • Finalizing grower contracts (see above)
  • Check cellar equipment to ensure it is working properly
  • Clean and sanitize any equipment or environmental surfaces
  • Train incoming, new staff members proper standard operating procedures (SOP’s) and safety operations
  • Make sure that there are enough analytical supplies to sustain your operation through harvest
  • Check and calibrate all lab equipment
  • Train all harvest interns and cellar/lab personnel how to handle harvest equipment and/or lab equipment
  • Review any SOP’s or safety protocols – for the cellar and lab – to evaluate if they should be updated before harvest

For further information on general harvest preparation steps, please see the Penn State Wine Made Easy Harvest Preparation fact sheet, or Dr. Muli Dharmadhikari’s detailed explanation on harvest preparation steps.

Make sure cellar equipment is properly cleaned and in good working order before harvest. [Opus One cellar, 2004.]

Make sure cellar equipment is properly cleaned and in good working order before harvest. [Opus One cellar, 2004.]

Safety First

There are many opportunities during the “off-season” for wineries to adequately enhance safety operations in the winery.  In general, all employees should be adequately trained on safety procedures, the use of safety equipment (e.g., how to wear safety equipment and when to wear it), and know the proper steps in handling an emergency (i.e., where the phones are located on the production floor, where the First Aid Kit is located, etc.).

As fermentation offers one well- known hazard to a winery – the rapid development of carbon dioxide – the summer months may be a good time for wineries to install carbon dioxide meters.

Ensure that proper equipment and instructions for making sanitizers is available to (and known by) all cellar employees.

Additionally, wineries should double check ventilation systems to ensure proper ventilation in the cellar area during the chaotic harvest season.

For more information on OSHA related safety techniques or developing a safety training program for your winery, please visit: www.osha.gov.

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