Harvest days in the Loire Valley
2020: earliest harvest ever in the Loire Valley!
Back to harvest 2017
No pictures of the 2020 harvest yet, but I take advantage of this article to share a video filmed by an
American visitor from Tennessee that I hosted for a wine tour in the vineyard at the end of September 2017. He asked if he could film the visit and the pickers working in a
small plot of land (only 9 rows) which is part of the family estate. Again, many thanks to Roger Van Dyk for the nice images he sent us: beautiful views of the Brenne
valley, of the village of Chançay, of the vineyard (the images of the rows filmed from above are rather impressive) and of the workers who were hand harvesting on that
Hand harvest or machine harvest?
By the way, hand or mechanical harvest? Which method should winemakers favor?
First, a few words about the type of harvest carried out in our vineyard. Vignoble Alain Robert is a member of the national federation of 'Vignerons Indépendants' (Independant Winemakers), which means we manage the entire wine-making process, from growing vines and harvesting grapes to making wine, bottling it and selling it. Until 2009, the majority of our grapes were harvested by hand. From that date, machine harvest took over. Nevertheless, we still harvest from a quarter to a third of our grapes manually (around 10 hectares out of the 36 that we grow), thus employing a team of 15 to 20 grape pickers, for various reasons.
First of all because we produce Crémant de Loire and the specifications of this AOC require that the grapes be harvested by hand and transported in crates. Then for qualitative choices: we also opt for hand harvest and in boxes in years when we are able to produce sweet and super sweet Vouvray wines. We harvest dried out grapes or grapes hit by noble rot (see pictures below), which at this stage are overripe and very fragile. The boxes therefore avoid the crushing of the berries, their bursting, and assure us an optimal quality when the bunches reach the pressing machine. Finally, we choose to hand harvest the grapes used in the production of Vouvray wines whose fermentation and ageing take place in oak barrels or casks. Precision is the key word in the making of these cuvées. The process of selecting the grapes during the harvest is therefore more thorough, since we operate a sorting of the grapes on tables (see photo below), before transporting them in crates to the winery.
The harvesting machine is criticized by some people - sometimes by visitors or locals nostalgic of the period when the
countryside and vineyards were filled with seasonal workers. However, the machine has significant advantages. First of all, it makes it possible to lower production costs, which are
twice as high per hectare when winegrowers employ grape
pickers because of wage costs). Some winegrowers will also tell you that the harvesting machine prevents them from having to recruit and manage staff. Finally, the machine is faster, which
allows, when the weather conditions deteriorate, to bring in the grapes before they rot on the vines.
Manual or mechanical harvests, every winegrower will make their accounts and own choices... unless the AOCs impose rules which the winegrowers cannot avoid. This is the case in the Champagne or Beaujolais regions, where all the grapes must be harvested by hand.
You'd like to try hand harvesting and experience the special atmosphere that reigns in the vineyard and in the cellars in autumn? Every year since 2014, we have organized a harvest day, open to individual visitors. It takes place on a Saturday, in September or October. On that day, we lend you a bucket and a pair of secateurs and introduce you to the hand harvest. It is also the opportunity to show you the harvesting machine and explain the peculiarities of AOC Vouvray, as well as the work in the vines throughout the year. In the cellar, you can observe the pressing of the grapes and taste the grape juices directly from the vats. We then share a lunch made of local specialties and wines from the estate, before finishing the day with a visit to the troglodyte cellar.