It’s harvest time! Winemakers are uber busy

My inbox is filling up with emails from wineries around the world reporting about their harvest or invitations to join winemakers to help pick grapes.  While it sounds romantic to be in the vineyard at this time of the year harvesting grapes, I can tell you from experience (in photo left), that it is nothing like the Hollywood movies.  Picking grapes is back breaking work.  It is fun though, when the rows are filled with chatty people who want to tell stories, swap wine tips or shoot the breeze.

The big question on the tip of everyone’s tongue is ‘How does this year’s harvest look?”.  When I ask, the winemakers often comment that this year, they are in a wait & see holding pattern.  In Ontario the general growing conditions was a cold spring, followed by a wet summer & a dry fall.  Unlike the stellar harvest of 2012, this year presented some challenges.  Now the talent of the winemakers will really show with what they can create with this year’s crop of grapes.

Here’s some quick clips of harvest reports that I have received to paint you a picture of how harvest 2013 is unfolding in wine regions around the world in the northern hemisphere. The southern hemisphere harvested their grapes already in February & March…in fact you may see white wines already on the store shelves with 2013 on the label!


Ontario harvest reports from…

… Southbrook Vineyard (Niagara-on-the-Lake)

Winery owner Bill Redelmeier reports:
“Well, that time has arrived. We spend all year building up to the harvest, and each year it seems to sneak up on us. The 6 weeks from start to end sees the Winemakers, Vineyard Crew, Cellar Workers, Pickers and a lot of others living on adrenalin and Tim Hortons coffee while trying to bring in their year’s work. This is the time that a year is made or lost. At the winery it is like a dance: wagons full of grape boxes arriving and being unloaded to be sorted, the sorting table humming and grapes either being pressed for whites, or going into fermenters for reds.

Our reds are a little later. The Merlot and Cabernet Franc should start in about 2 weeks with the Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon following. That is perfect timing, as our “Join The Harvest” festival takes place on October 5thand 6th at the winery. That weekend is a great opportunity to see behind the scenes of our bustling operation, and a chance try tasting ripe grapes.

We have been posting film clips on our YouTube site which you may find interesting, have a look and see! They are a great way to learn about what is going on in the vineyard.”

…Henry of Pelham (Beamsville Bench)

“September and October are definitely our two busiest months,” said Paul Speck, president of Henry of Pelham Estate Winery in St. Catharines. “We’re out conducting the harvest, but it’s also our busiest time for tourism.” Henry of Pelham started harvesting its Pinot Noir last Friday (September 13). The variety is handpicked for the winery’s sparkling wines, and about 35 tonnes will be harvested over the coming weeks, “We like what we’re seeing so far,” he said. “If we get some cool nights and warm days, we should have a good crop this year.”

That said, there are still some risk factors. Speaking Monday morning, Speck was weary of the hot weather predicted for Tuesday — in excess of 30C.

“You want to get the sugar up to a good level and the acidity to come down, but we need to watch to make sure rot doesn’t set in with the extreme (temperatures),” he said. “We’ve had a good July and August, but hopefully the weather cooperates over the next four to six weeks.”

Aside from icewine varieties, Speck said, much of the picking for the Pelham Road winery should be done by the end of October. That means those visiting the winery during the Niagara Wine Festival will have a great opportunity to see the operation in full swing, he said.

“It’s a great time to come in for tours and tastings,” said Speck. “You get to come and see equipment that just sits there for nine months a year in the fields and in action.

…Broken Stone Vineyard (Prince Edward County’s newest winery)

Tim, Micheline and family from Broken Stone Winery report:

Harvest Weekend took place Saturday October 5 & Sunday October 6 when their Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Meunier vines were loaded with succulent berries. Being their first harvest, this weekend was quite a party!

This is how the weekend unfolds (the big day is on Saturday)

10 am Arrive and start picking (truthfully, we’ll be out in the field by 8 am, so if you are eager, please feel free to come sooner)
1 pm Lunch & Toast to the Vines
2-4 pm More Picking!
4 pm Grape stomp & crushing
Sunday you’re welcome to come out, enjoy the outdoors, and help us pick, but it’s a much more informal affair.

Please wear your outdoor work clothes & bring gardening gloves.  We’ll provide a morning snack, hearty lunch, and an afternoon snack.   Children are welcome.  They can pick grapes, play soccer, stomp grapes, explore the property & jump on the trampoline.

October is a beautiful time to be in the County;  combine your day trip with a wine tour (there are 7 wineries on Closson Road alone).  Or you can stay until late afternoon and watch how we de-stem and crush the grapes.  Relax with a nice glass of Broken Stone Pinot Noir — our wine always tastes the best after you’ve worked in the vineyard where it’s grown.

British Columbia harvest reports from…

British Columbia Wine Institute says: “Early reports suggest that 2013 will be an excellent vintage with great quality potential.”

Penticton resident Michael Bartier, who is the chief winemaker at Okanagan Crush Pad, has harvested Gewürztraminer from a Summerland vineyard owned by his brother Don Bartier, to be used for their Bartier Brothers wine. “We harvested this vineyard a full three weeks earlier than last year, and the quality of the fruit looks very good. Prepare for a great 2013 vintage from the Okanagan,”

Christine Coletta (left), co-owner of Okanagan Crush Pad, where Haywire wines wines are made, expects to process 420 tons this year, from vineyards as far north as Kamloops and as far south as Osoyoos. “Grapes are ripening quickly and the fruit flavours on these early picks have been exceptional. But it is not over until it is over, so we are cautiously optimistic that harvest will continue to be a smooth sail.”

Matt Dumayne, who moved three years ago from New Zealand to make wine in the Okanagan, noted the vintage was shaping up to be the best he has experienced in the valley.

Judy Kingston, owner of Naramata’s Serendipity Winery offers, “2013 promises to be a great vintage at the winery. Lots of spring rain paired with hot days and cool nights made for ideal growing conditions, so we are two weeks ahead of schedule. The grapes taste phenomenal right now,”

The reds are coming along well, but we’ll need some dry weather coming into October. It should be an early year for everything,

Harvest Report from Italy… Hail & heavy rain dampens 2013 harvest

Italian wine industry web site – Assoenologi – provides this harvest report:
“Unlike 2012 when a series of adverse summer weather conditions had a significantly negative impact on wine production, 2013 has been kinder. Giving rise to more favourable conditions with an improved cycle of growth for the vines, slow maturation and bigger and fuller berries as well as restoring a traditional harvest time which in the Centre North, was up to10 to 15 days later than that of 2012 and 7 to 10 days later in the South and the Islands. 

Bizarre weather patterns, but not for vines.  Riccardo Cotarella, President of the Association of Assoenologi reports, that after a very mild autumn, one of the warmest on record for the past 25 years, winter started with a sharp drop in temperatures compared to the seasonal average. Throughout Italy January, February and March had higher than average rainfall, making this one of the wettest periods recorded for the past 50 years.

In Friuli in the first five months of 2013 rainfall equalled the annual average, in May, in Trentino 260mm of rain were recorded, the first 3 months in Romagna were the wettest in recent decades, and in the Marche from January to April/May the amount of rainfall (464mm) exceeded the average values for the last forty year by 46%. In total 50% of a year’s rainfall fell in the first three months of 2013.

Rainfall was also plentiful in spring and early summer, creating invaluable subsoil reserves, but at the same time giving rise in several areas, to a number of problems connected to virulent fungal diseases (mildew and oidium) which affected potential yields as well as creating setting issues after a heterogeneous flowering.

During the second half of July and for a month it was very hot, in August, there were important thermal variations between day and night thus creating ideal conditions for a very promising maturation, far better than those of the two previous vintages. Unfortunately, throughout Italy, there were also hail storms, that have adversely damaged the vines. 

To date – 31st August – less than 10% of grapes have been harvested. Puglia and Sicily were the regions that picked early grapes in the first 10 days of August – states Giuseppe Martelli, general director of Assoenologi and chairman of the Ministry of Agriculture’s National Wine Committee – Throughout Italy the harvest will peak during the last 7 days of September and the first 7 days of October, ending in November with the last harvest of bunches of Nebbiolo in Valtellina and Cabernet in South Tyrol, Alglianico in Campania and other various indigenous varieties on the slopes of Etna.

Early analysis suggests lower sugar concentrations than last year, but a more robust total acidity.

Grape maturation was gradual, over a reasonable period of time, not concentrated as in 2011 and 2012. A slow maturation implies a higher quality, it favours concentration of positive elements such as aromatic ones in white grapes and polyphenolic compounds in red grapes.

2013 therefore promises to be a vintage of attractive quality, but most of its potential is still to be assessed. It all rests upon September’s meteorological conditions and those in areas such as Campania, Valtellina, South Tyrol and Mount Etna in October. If September and October have adequate sunlight and rainfall we will have an excellent vintage, if rain prevails on the other hand, quality will definitely be affected. 

New Zealand wineries have already harvested & share this report…

Wines of New Zealand reported “Outstanding weather means we expect the 2013 wines to be vibrant, fruit driven and complex expressions of our diverse grape growing regions.”

Facts & Figures for the 2013 vintage:

345,000 tonnes of grapes were harvested, which is up 28% on the small 2012 harvest last year but up only 5% on 2011 Sauvignon Blanc is up+ 26% Pinot Noir is up +36% Chardonnay is up + 19% Pinot Gris is up + 44%

It’s worth noting that New Zealand Wines are currently tracking at +17% nationally this is the highest percentage growth of any wine category.


Stay tuned for more harvest reports. It might be October 15th, yet harvest is far from being over!


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