Harvest 2018 is fast approaching with a bountiful crop promised across the board. The summer has been kind, to say the least. Canopies are lush, berries are plump and it would seem we’ve still got sunshine to spare.
Considering almost every single bunch of grapes in the UK will be picked by hand, it’s incredibly important that we do everything we can to ensure an efficient pick. Start with the basics of canopy management, ensuring it is up to date with all canes tucked in, wires clipped and fruit zone foliage stripped on both sides. Thin out your bunches to the desired crop level and certainly discard any diseased fruit. Only pickable fruit should be hanging on the vine at this stage. A uniformly ripe, clean and visible crop is far quicker to pick than an unkept mess hidden in a jungle of foliage. We’re vineyard specialists, not tribesman. Keep the under-vine strip weed-free so that crates of fruit can be tucked underneath vines to avoid being pressed prematurely by tractors, and mow the alleyways to aid walking.
Stay vigilant against all predators as your fruit ripens. Maintain robust spray coverage to keep botrytis at bay. Bird netting or at least putting up a few bird scarers is always prudent. Hang a few insect traps out and monitor for Spotted Wing Drosophila, (SWD) Light Brown Apple Moth and Grape Berry Moth.
Yield estimations are always a little disconcerting especially for the first time, but it’s actually easier than you might think. Simply walk a zigzag pattern through the vineyard and randomly select vines to count. Include weak/fruitless/missing vines, the tally must be true! Count every pickable bunch and write the total down. Repeat across at least 30 vines per variety/clone and calculate the average number of bunches per vine. Weigh a few sample bunches in a similar way. Ave. number of bunches per vine x ave. bunch weight x number of vines = total yield. Bag up the bunches you’ve weighed and send them off to your winelab for analysis. They will measure the % Brix, Titratable Acid levels and pH. Discuss the results with your winemaker to decide on a harvest date and make sure to book picking teams, winery space and transport long in advance! It is of the utmost importance to ensure that your contract pickers, winery and logistics are all lined up for the same days. Each of these vital cogs will of course, need regular updates along with your cooperation and flexibility. Coordinating picks at multiple sites a day, each with their own idiosyncrasies, and lining their picks up with available space in only a handful of grape presses while working around the changeable English weather, labour constraints, fruit ripeness, disease pressure and insect threats is no walk in the park.
When deciding on how many pickers to source, work on a rate of roughly 50kg of fruit picked per person per hour – bearing in mind that a tiny bunch takes just as long to pick as a massive bunch. You will also need a team of three ground crew; one tractor driver and two burley picker uppers. Roughly one team for every six tons per day, (depending on ground conditions, crate sizes, trailer size, row length, distance to loading area etc.)