Why harvest in the middle of the night, you ask? The answer is simple: Cool fruit means better control over the fermentation process.
Daytime temperatures from 30°C (and above) can change the sugar composition of grapes, and picking at night keeps sugar levels stable due to much lower temperatures. Normally you would have to lower the temperature of the grapes after picking by running the grapes through a cold bath or a heat exchanger, or big wineries have jackets on their stainless steel tanks. But that all takes a lot of energy, so let's talk about night harvesting and all its benefits.Not only is this happening in Tuscany but it's increasingly becoming the norm for harvesting grapes — in the dead of night. It results in better wine, lower energy costs and greater efficiency. Night harvesting got its start as early as 1970 or 1971, when the first mechanical grape harvesters began to be used. Machines can harvest up to 100 times the amount that can be picked by hand. There is a small window of opportunity from 3:00 a.m. until sunrise and in the interests of speed and consistency there is simply no way to accomplish this by manually picking by hand these days.
Harvesting the Grapes at Night -The Many Benefits
Gathering the grapes under a harvest moon is a romantic image, but it also has its roots in an age-old tradition. Wine producers in Europe, Chile, and Argentina are all beginning to harvest at night.
Harvesting grapes at night allows the picking to occur when the temperatures are cooler. This is a benefit for workers, but it is also when the sugar levels in the grapes are more stable, the quality and acid levels are better, and there is less chance of spoilage. Plus, more tonnage can be picked and processed at night.
Nighttime harvesting is also more energy efficient. Picking grapes when they have cooled in the darkness cuts down on the time and energy needed to pre-cool them before they can be pressed or fermented.
When grapes arrive at the winery in the early morning hours, they can immediately be crushed, pressed, and the first fermentation started. When harvesting during the heat of the day, grape temperatures can get up to 110 degrees. To crush and ferment they should be in the 55-degree range, which means they must be chilled. Cooler grapes also means the winemaker has better control of the first fermentation process.
When harvesting begins at dawn, it is usually stopped by noon or 1:00 p.m. The temperatures in the vineyards are just too hot for the workers, and the grapes. When harvesting at night, workers can pick anywhere from 8 to 12 hours.
So the benefits for the workers are great. Nighttime temperatures are much easier to work in than the hot 80 to 100° days during August and September.
Workers don't have to worry about bee stings and surprise snake encounters among the nighttime vines. The only disadvantage to nighttime harvesting could be hilly or rough terrain, which is more difficult to navigate at night.
These are just some of the many benefits that go along with night harvest.
Join a Fall departure of any one of our Ciclismo Classico Tuscany trips and keep your eyes peeled for nighttime harvests!