In the blistering heat and drought stricken region of the Western Cape, South Africa – I spent every week in March at a different wine harvest (Lanzerac, Zandvliet, Zevenwacht and La Motte) to show you just what it takes to produce a wine from vineyard to table.
It is unbelievable how much work, resource and time is spent on creating a single bottle of wine for you to enjoy. Furthermore, it is also one of the most rewarding experiences to see how much passion goes into winemaking in South Africa. Here are some of the interesting things I learnt during wine harvest…
In the vineyard – hand harvest
Sun protection and closed shoes are a must! I was wondering why I was the only one in open shoes and a white top – haha – let’s just say that I used a bucket of Vanish and had to pick a dozen thorns from my toes afterwards. It’s not an easy job let me tell you! It took me 30 minutes to fill this 20kg crate and then another 30 minutes dragging it to the tractor. The professionals fill 40 of these crates per person in one morning and carry the crates above their head like it’s the most easy thing in the world. I must have looked like such a weakling!
These are the vineyard sheers and it’s what you use to cut the grapes away from the branches. Not your fingers! Subsequently, have been stories of people cutting the tips of their fingers off during wine harvest. The sheer horror! (pun intended). Haha. It’s best to prepare your row of vines first by removing the leaves with your hands to expose the grapes. Therefore, it is then a lot easier to see where to cut.
The crate should go directly under where you are cutting to catch all the bunches. Your hands get extremely sticky and you will come across a few snails, bugs and spiders too! Wine harvest is definitely not for those who shriek at the sight of a crawling insect.
In the vineyard – machine harvest
The wine harvest I just explained is processed by hand. It is very labour intensive what what you get are whole bunch grapes which, depending on the wine, is just what you need for extra tannin for example. Another method of wine harvesting is by machine like this baby below at Zevenwacht wines. It shakes the vines to extract the bunches, and then pulls the berries off of the stalks.
This is what the grapes look like on top of the machine.
In the cellar – traditional
The grapes then make their way to the cellar where they begin the process of juicing to make wine!
This is the traditional method where you squish the grapes with your feet. It’s slippery, cold and you can feel the stalks tickle your feet. In case you are wondering how winemakers can allow people to stick their dirty feet into their wine, don’t worry, the alcohol kills all types of germs later. It didn’t stop me from tasting the juice directly after this though 🙂 The juice was high in sugar and tasted like really yummy grape juice.
In the cellar – modern
Another method of “squooshing” the grapes is through a de-stalking and crushing machine which takes the juice and skins up into the fermenters.
A scientific process
Yeast is added and it can get quite technical here. Making wine is a lot like being a scientist. A Balling scale is used to measure the amount of dissolved solids in grape juice, and therefore gives an indication of the amount of sugar in the juice.
Let the sugar turn to alcohol!
The juice is carried into large tanks (either open or closed) and it is here that the grapes omit carbon dioxide. Whilst there is an absense of oxygen, the yeast helps to convert the sugar of the grape juice into alcohol. This process is called fermentation.
During fermentation, the grape skins float to the top so it is during this time that the juice is pumped over the skins every few hours to get that beautiful red colour going. Fall into this tank and you are dead. There is not oxygen down there and it will take only minutes for you to suffocate. Someone was holding onto my belt when I took this photo 🙂
You are probably wondering where the wine barrels are? That’s the next stage if the wine is wooded. One of these babies can cost up to R20 000 a barrel.
On the table for you to enjoy!
In conclusion, the entire process can take a couple of months or as much as a few years before the wine is bottled and enjoyed. At the end of the day, we get to experience all of this with little thought of what it took to create the wine. Well now you know 🙂
If you would like to experience something like this, here are some options to look into for Feb next year: