Machine Harvesting

Definition - What does Machine Harvesting mean?

Machine harvesting (or mechanical harvesting) is the act of picking grapes with a machine, most specifically a grape picker. The grape picker beats the vine with rubber sticks to get it to drop the fruit onto a conveyor belt, which brings the fruit to a bin. The bin is then brought to the sorter to separate the rotten grapes from the ripe ones.

Mechanical harvesting was brought to the agricultural market in 1701, when Jethro Tull developed the seed drill. Since then, all forms of agriculture have been modifying technological developments to improve harvest time, quality and efficiency. The use of machines has increased in the last decades, increasing urbanization and industrialization of economies. It came to be used in wine harvest in the 1960s.

WineFrog explains Machine Harvesting

Using machine harvesting over the more traditional hand-picking is a controversial topic. Many believe that mechanical harvesting creates inferior wines.

The disadvantages:

  • unripe grapes are picked with the ripe ones
  • damage is done to the skins of the grapes
  • induces maceration, coloring of the juice and oxidation
The benefits:
  • lower cost to the overall production of the wine
  • harvest is able to run for 24 hours
  • yields 80 - 200 tons in a day
  • ideal for climates where quick picking is required

Despite the increased efficiency, the negative rumors surrounding mechanical harvesting mean that when consumers see "hand-picked" on the label, they belief it is superior. However, Paumanok Vineyards, a winery in New York, conducted an experiment to determine the truth. They divided their plot of Cabernet Sauvignon in half, hand-picked one half and machine harvested the other. When the wines were prepared, they held a blind tasting. The result was that the wines harvested by machine were slightly better.

The theory is that these wines were better because:

  • the rotten or unripe grapes were culled from the vineyard prior to harvest
  • with technological advancements, machines are becoming more and more adept at separating the grapes from the mud and leaves
  • the berries touch only the plastic tub and stainless steel bins

There really is no "correct" answer as to what is better, but if you want to pick a fight with a wine-maker, you are sure to have luck by taking the other side of the debate!

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