Mechanical grape harvester proves its worth and cuts picking costs.

While vineyards including Biddenden and Three Choirs started picking grapes as early as 1 September, harvest 2020 officially started for NP Seymour’s viticulture sales specialist and independent contractor Sam Barnes on 14 September 2020. That was the day he put his Pellenc mechanical grape harvester to work at Bolney Wine Estate on the estate’s high wire Rondo and early Pinot noir. 

This was the second outing this year for the UK’s only contract machine harvester after Sam ran some green harvest, machine thinning and trash removal trials with a grower at the end of July.

“I think the results were pretty clear and showed just how many unset berries and rubbish we removed from the canopy,” said Sam Barnes. “This should allow bunch closure to be cleaner, reduce disease in the fruit later in the season and allow fruit to ripen to its full potential evenly. I’ve worked with growers in New Zealand who swear by this, so we are just working out what works best for our climate and varieties in the UK.”

Sam, who imported his Pellenc last year and was featured in the November 2019 edition of Vineyard magazine, already has a busy schedule planned this year and will be breaking new ground with many new customers across the South East of England.

While it is not the only mechanical grape harvester in the country (Denbies and Buzzard Valley vineyards both have Brauds) it is the only one available ‘on contract’. Through his business, SJ Barnes Ltd, Sam has successfully helped many English vineyards to harvest fruit for still and sparkling wine while saving time and keeping labour costs down.

Mechanical harvesters offer an economical way of bringing in the final crop, costing around one third of hand harvesting. In 2019, using his Pellenc 890 in a vineyard with two-metre spacing producing a yield of approximately 15 tonnes per hectare, Sam recorded the cost of harvest to be just £75 per tonne. By comparison, the industry recommended average labour cost for grape harvesting is £200 to £250 per tonne.

As the UK’s leading viticultural tractor and machinery dealership, NP Seymour has now been appointed by Pellenc as the UK agent for its range of mechanical harvesters. The portfolio comprises various models, including both trailed and self-propelled options. 

“We always strive to give growers access to the very latest technology which will help increase efficiency and profitability in their businesses, and so we are absolutely delighted to be able to work with Pellenc to offer UK viticulturists access to these labour-saving harvesting machines,” said Claire Seymour, sales and marketing director at NP Seymour. 

“Before purchasing his, Sam spent years extensively researching harvester options and is on hand to talk to our customers about why he chose Pellenc, as well as which models and specifications are the most suitable for UK still and sparkling wine production.”