Fall in Italy! If summer means the canning of the tomatoes, fall is certainly dedicated to wine-making, and the other sacred process, the harvesting of the olives for the precious gold, olive oil. I recall vividly my youth in Italy, and the smells that these activities produced.
The atmosphere in town was one of hard work, and also much celebration. How would this year’s wine turn out, the locals would all wonder. This was a celebration for us kids as well.
As we gathered at the picnic tables after a hard day of work for the adults, the kids always got samples of the grape juice. It wasn’t until I was much older that I could even begin to understand the hard work that went into producing these coveted items.
Wine-making is under way right now in Italy.
These are the laborious days of the harvest, when the grapes, which have had a full year to mature, are collected and brought to the cellar to give life and start the process of being turned into wine.
As you might expect, the harvest is still a ritual today. Oftentimes, friends, relatives and neighbors gather during the harvest to work in the vineyards and then celebrate a day’s work with moments of relaxation out in the fields, gathered around the table with a bounty of local foods. This is, after all, one of the most crucial times of the year for Italians.
If you have ever enjoyed a glass of wine, and who hasn’t, and wondered how it came to be, I want to offer you a few key points on the grape collection process, which might produce in you a new sense of appreciation for this beloved beverage.
There are many elements that influence grape ripeness, so the beginning of the harvest can vary from year to year. Unripe grapes contain many acids and fewer sugars, with time, sugars increase and acids decrease.
When the grapes appear ripe, a sample is analyzed several times to understand if the level of sugar and acidity is just right. So while fall is synonimous with harvast, the timing does vary a bit. In the southern regions, grapes ripen earlier, thus are harvested between August and September, especially those used to produce sparkling wines.
Most other grapes are harvested between September and October. The late ripening grapes are harvested between October and November, and sometimes even in December! In the winter, the frozen grapes are harvested to obtain the fine Eiswein, mostly in the region of Valle D’Aosta.
There are two approaches to harvesting the grapes, one is by hand and the other is mechanical. This uses a harvesting machine, which sucks the grapes or shakes the branches. The time of day is also very important.
In hot climates, the harvest is done in the very early morning or in the evening, this is the ideal time to avoid unwanted fermentations.
Bringing healthy grapes to the cellar is crucial for making great wines. For this to happen, the harvest must be accurate, and vintners must start with healthy bunches, neither crushed nor wet, but also timely.
The grapes must be brought to the cellar before the fermentation process begins. Here, they are cleaned and selected to start the magical process that leads to wine.
As an Italian food & wine tour leader, one of the questions I am most often asked during our fall tours is, can I participate in the harvest? We’re happy to report that countless wineries all over Italy, from Trentino Alto Adige to Sicily, open their doors during the harvest to welcome visitors and guests.