Wine Harvest, Give Thanks

grapes vines grapevines vineyard 553463

In the UK, we consume around 1.6 billion bottles of wine per year.  One point six billion!  That’s one hell of a lot of grapes.  Many are collected using a grape harvesting machine but this isn’t possible in small production vineyards and in those vineyards which are high up or on steep slopes – in those instances, the grapes have to be picked by hand.

I did my first ever wine harvest back in the early days of October.  I picked Pinot Noir in the Kent countryside for five hours.  The vineyard I was working on has 11,500 vines and we were picking just 2,500 of them. Starting out in the misty morning of the first day of harvest, looking down the rows and rows of plump, dark-skinned grapes – I was looking forward to being a part of the process.

Now, I’m 5 foot 8 tall and the vines are just at that wonderful level which means I have to bend to sift through the leaves and reach the bunches.  One could go along the rows crouching at the knees but, with early onset arthritis, that was never going to be an option for me!  I had no choice but to spend five hours hunched over at the lower back.  Five hours! Whether you crouch or hunch however, I’m telling you now, one way or another, those grapes are going to make you work for that wine.

There were spiders (small and few, thankfully), earwigs (bigger than I’ve ever seen and plentiful), very few wasps (which were my main concern) and lots and lots of grapes. Some bunches had disease and some had pest damage but, overall, it was a very clean crop. We picked the vines for five hours and then, after stopping for a spot of lunch and a bit of a rest, we then shifted 2.5 tonnes of grapes, in standard crates, into the awaiting truck.

Grapes are deceptively heavy: it was hard work, it was relentless and it was just one half of a day for me.  I was one of 22 people who that day helped with picking 22% of that vineyard and I could still feel the effects 5 days later. If my maths is correct then I helped with 1% of that vineyard and I was exhausted!  

Vineyard ownership is not for the faint hearted. 

I knew it wasn’t going to be quite like Russell Crowe in ‘A Good Year’ but I had naively thought it would be easier than it was.  I was right about one thing though, the wine drank at the end of that day tasted exceptional!

So this Christmas……..:
When I open a bottle of wine, I take pleasure in the pop of the cork, the initial smell, the anticipation, the glug, glug, glug as it’s poured into the glass.  Then I appreciate the taste.  Now, as we move into the festive season and wine makes a more regular occurrence into our diet we need to give thanks to all those people who helped make this wonderful product possible.  To all those who crouched/hunched their way through this 2015 harvest (and all those harvests before which have been patiently ageing) – I salute you.  Cheers.

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