As I have mentioned we are harvesting at night. Night harvesting is more difficult, but like most work, it boils down to logistics and attention to detail. With preparation it becomes manageable in terms of crew, working conditions and quality control.
Why pick at night? In a previous post, "Pinot Noir Harvest Starts Tomorrow," I briefly mentioned the importance of sanitation. The foundation for producing optimum-quality wines is microbiological sanitation. Harvesting fruit that is cold and in excellent condition is a continuation of sanitation because it is important to eliminate or minimize the growth of unwanted yeast and bacteria. Depending on your winemaking philosophy, many types of wild yeast and bacteria are considered spoilage organisms. Wild yeast can contribute off flavors and aromas, including acetic acid (vinegar,) and ethyl acetate (nail-polish remover) and also lead to "stuck" fermentations.
Fruit that is undamaged and cold has a much lower potential for the growth of unwanted microorganisms and for oxidation. Simply put, fruit picked at night or in the cool of the morning makes better wine by giving the winemaker control of the fermentation. Cold fruit also allows for a longer cold soak and gentler extraction of flavor from the grapes. This occurs with the need for less energy for cooling and refrigeration in the cold soak.
Lighting is key, both in terms of worker safety and quality control. People need to vividly see what they are cutting with the clippers, so we use high-intensity halogen light bulb headlamps. These simultaneously emit two beams, both a floodlight and a spotlight. They use up the batteries a little faster, but are great for worker safety and lighting up the fruit.
Bright halogen lights on the back of the tractor shine down into the picking bins where the fruit is carefully sorted. In addition to lighting, another important aspect of night picking is having a small crew go through the block the afternoon before, physically inspecting the fruit and dropping any that may have botrytis or bird damage to the ground.
The expense of night picking is roughly the same as day picking because we are able to harvest for a longer period of time with a smaller crew when the temperature is cool both at night and into the early morning. The smaller crew is also easier to train and manage, and becomes a little more efficient.
It is a little harder to pick at night, but the results of getting cold fruit to the fermentors is worth the extra effort.
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