No later than when the crop is at the door, you have to face the question of how the grapes should be picked. While hand-picking is generally regarded as of high quality, the machine never truly got away from her reputation of being as delicate as a “Sherman Tank” from WWII. The decision for one or the other type, however, is based on a variety of factors: technical, practical, economic or even philosophical. Here are some facts and suggestions.
Homage to the machine
The machine is on average three times faster than hand picking and therefore less costly. In addition, it can be used day and night. Apart from the additional time savings, the night-picking offers cool temperatures, which may be beneficial to the making of white and rosé wines.
Similarly in case of a pending weather disaster, speed is an important factor to prevent total crop disaster. But you have to invest a certain amount to own such a harvester. To buy a machine, it needs some 150 to 200 thousand euros and also requires additional work to adapt it to the vineyard: Select the appropriate pruning and install trellis wires, make trained personnel familiar with the machine, wait for the best ripeness, avoid rot (because the machine picks up everything) ...
Dedication to hands
The hand-picking still to enjoys its reputation of being an “honest” and “socialising” operation. People from everywhere come together to work in the open air, share food and wine and generally have a lot of fun. Manual harvesting preserves a millennia of old craft and furthermore contributes to social life in rural areas.
From a technical standpoint, handpicking allows screening rotten grapes. This is a very important point, because the quality of the crop generally is reflected in the wine. When whole crop fermentation has to be done, such as in the widespread carbonic maceration of Beaujolais and the Mediterranean area, a mechanical harvesting is no option, because only the human hand is capable of harvisting entire grapes.
Happier those who have no choice?
Sometimes external circumstances leave no choice to the winemakers. Hand-picking may be prescribed by law, as in the production of champagne or Crémant. In other cases steep terrain and terasses exclude the use of a machine. And last but not least, as the average retail price lays somwhere between 4 and 10 USD per 750 ml bottle, decisions are sometimes simply made by the accountants...