Preparation for Harvest – Considerations in the Winery

By: Denise M. Gardner

Well, the time is here – harvest season!  And if you haven’t geared up already, it is now crunch time.

In my travels across the state, I am seeing a lot of good things in the vineyard, which makes me eager for the 2016 crop to come into the winery where it can be made into wine.  While the drought has impacted a large portion of the state, I’m also seeing good color, tannin, and flavor development in fruit, and am hoping for a nice 2016 vintage.  This picture of ripening Pinot Grigio from the Endless Mountains region shows just how far along the fruit is coming into its developed stage.

Pinot Grigio grapes surpassing veraison and moving into their full ripening stage. Photo by: Denise M. Gardner

Pinot Grigio grapes surpassing veraison and moving into their full ripening stage. Photo by: Denise M. Gardner

With all that work that went into a good growing season, please don’t forget that harvest is also about taking the care and time required to make a clean, quality wine.  Otherwise, all of that hard work in the vineyard may be lost in the wine!  While taking a few short cuts here-and-there can be appealing during the busy harvest season, some short cuts can detrimentally impact final wine quality or even lead to flaws when things like cleaning and sanitation steps are forgotten or minimally implemented in the cellar.

The following blog post will review a few practical steps that winemakers and the cellar crew can take now in order to prepare for the first lot of incoming fruit in an effort to try to minimize stress and chaos during a hectic time of year.

1. Order your harvest materials

While “free shipping” July has passed, if you haven’t ordered your harvest supplies yet, now is the time to do it.  Take a few hours and figure out what you will need to get through harvest.  This includes anything from sugar and acid to yeast and malolactic bacteria.  Don’t forget your sanitizers.  There is a PSU Wine Made Easy Fact Sheet that gives a more thorough list of supplies you should make sure to have in the winery and properly stored for use prior to the start of harvest.

2. Get last year’s wines bottled

It goes without saying that getting last year’s inventory moved into bottles will free up tank, barrel and storage space for this year’s incoming fruit.  It makes for a much easier transition if all of your wines that need bottling are bottled before harvest season starts.  Bottling during harvest is not only chaotic, but it will tire your employees (and you!) and may lead to harvest decisions that may be regretted later.

Always make sure to get your bottled wines properly stored and away from any “wet areas” on the production floor.  If possible, bottled wines should have a separated storage area with an ideal storage environment that is physically separated from production.  From there, stored wines can be moved into retail space when needed.

Get wines bottled prior to harvest. Photo by: Denise M. Gardner

Get wines bottled prior to harvest. Photo by: Denise M. Gardner

3. Check and prepare equipment

Many wineries experience equipment failures during harvest as most of the equipment has been left in storage throughout the winter, spring and summer months and was not routinely used.  This lack of use can be wearing on equipment and may lead to equipment failures during production.

Therefore, we recommend pulling out your crusher/destemmer and press to get it up and running before the first grapes arrive.  As the equipment is probably dirty, give it a good physical cleaning and sanitation regime to ensure that it is in its best condition before grapes come anywhere near it.  I have seen many presses with left over rice hulls inside of them, and cellar staff should be reminded that left over debris are potential contamination sources for microbial spoilage.  Additionally, old debris may alter the flavor for this year’s wines, which would minimize the efforts that were taken in the vineyard to mature fruit.  To make fresh, clean wines, cleaning and sanitation is quite important.

It is imperative to pull out all of your pumps and ensure that they are actually working before those first grapes arrive.  Pull down hoses and ensure they are all properly cleaned.  Give the hoses an inspection, clean and re-dry before their first use.

While it is busy work, and it may be tedious, having clean and working equipment is a life saver during the actual harvest period.

4. Double check you have plenty of analytical supplies to get you through harvest

For those that have analytical labs, make sure that your labs are properly stocked with hydrometers, Clinitests, refractometers, pipettes, glassware, pH probes, and all of the associated chemicals that you will need during harvest season.  This way, everything is ready to go when you need it.

Ensure that you have all of the appropriate lab equipment and supplies that you will need during the harvest season. Photo by: Denise M. Gardner

Ensure that you have all of the appropriate lab equipment and supplies that you will need during the harvest season. Photo by: Denise M. Gardner

Get your spreadsheets or data collecting systems prepared prior to when the grapes arrive so that you can easily input data throughout harvest season when you are crunched for time.

5. Timing is everything

If you are like many winemakers in Pennsylvania, you may be making several Pennsylvania-grown fruit wines.  Remember that several other fruits can be cold-stored (e.g., apples) or frozen (e.g., strawberries, blueberries, raspberries) until after the grape harvest is completed.  When the grape fermentations start to slow down, you can remove the stored fruit for processing and fermentation.  This allows you to focus on your grape wines first and then alter your focus to the fruit wines after the busy season associated with the grape harvest has passed.

On a positive side, freezing the other fruits helps to concentrate their flavors and will provide a fruitier base for fermentation.

6. Consider your resources

Remember that Penn State Extension is available to answer questions you may encounter during the harvest season.  It is always easier to prevent problems as opposed to fixing them in the wine, so please do not hesitate to use this resource.

Additionally, we have a full 2-page fact sheet and check list for considerations prior to harvest that may be helpful to many winemakers: http://extension.psu.edu/food/enology/wine-production/wine-made-easy-fact-sheets/preparation-for-harvest

When in a pinch, remember that there are calculators online to help you make product additions or alterations:

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