As we approach harvest and the grapes go through veraison, they don’t only get attractive to us humans. In the last weeks before harvest, the hard, green grape berries become juicy and tasty. The red grape varieties gain colour and the white varieties soften. The sugar content goes up, and the berries double in weight. And everybody wants a taste.
Even our vineyard dog, Rosie, has a pretty good palate and would start eating low-hanging fruit once they’re ripe enough, acting like she’s the Chief Maturity Sampling Technician or something. But we’re not worried about Rosie and the bunches she munches.
It’s the birds. Unless they are stopped, birds would destroy the harvest.
The larger birds such as blackbirds and thrushes that steal a berry and fly off with it don’t really bother us too much. It’s the tiny ones, the sparrows and wax-eyes, that cause the trouble. They peck a hole in one berry and then flit off to another bunch to do the same, and then another… And in each of these places, rot sets in, mostly sour rot, that would essentially turn the wine we make from such bunches into vinegar. And nobody wants to relax with a glass of vinegar.
We try to scare off the birds by making noise in the vineyard, but the most effective way to stop them is to put nets over the vine rows. They can find food somewhere else – the grapes are for us!
Working on the taste
In the weeks before the nets go up, we do a lot of work to make sure the grapes are as tasty as possible.
A big thing for us is to get the crop loads right, so that we get the quality wine we want. Our vineyard team goes through the vine rows to get an accurate estimate of the crop they carry. There’s a lot of counting. We even have a smart little app that lets you take a photo of the bunch, and it counts the berries and grades them into large/medium/small berries. Using mathematical models, we get a sense of the eventual crop load and can then compare it to what we know gives us the wine quality we want.
This often means we have to remove some of the bunches – we’d rather have a smaller crop of better grapes that ensure you can enjoy tastier wine.
If only the birds would develop a taste for the unripe fruit that falls to the ground at this stage and leave the ripe grapes to us. But no, they love a sweet, juicy grape as much as we do.
The simple truth of it is that if it weren’t for the nets, we wouldn’t be able to make the wine you love.