Harvesting – Is it the best time of the season?

Usually the answer is yes, but sometimes it has been challenging.

There are a few harvests that really stand out in our memory.  One of them was our first harvest.  We were still at the naive and inexperienced stage.  We had been walking up and down admiring this beautiful fruit for weeks.  Then the harvesting crew came in with a professional eye.  Fruit that wasn’t good enough was dropped.  Fruit that showed any sign of not being ripe enough was ignored.  Shoulders on bunches were cut off, as they weren’t ripe enough to go into the wine.  Berries which the birds had pecked through the nets were flicked off.  It felt to us that half our precious fruit was being left behind.  It was our rude introduction of what quality fruit for quality wine actually means.  Since then, we have learnt to do most of these things as we go through the season, so it has never been as devastating since.

The next one was the first time we were actively involved in the picking.  The rest of the crew was fast and efficient.  We weren’t.  Picking snips are sharp, so by the end of the day Margaret had a sticking plaster on almost every finger as a result of trying to go faster.  Now we always have a pack of plasters with us, but we don’t have to use them too often.

Blue Earth Estate, Mike harvesting pinot noir.

Probably the hardest harvest, was in 2022.  It had been a wet, cool season.  The grass never stopped growing, and we were regularly mowing under the nets to reduce the humidity in the vineyard.  At that stage we had an abandoned vineyard next door, which contributed to us having more disease than we had ever seen.  Normally we can manage the vineyard in a way that we get very little disease, but not that year.  Powdery mildew had struck early, and botrytis was starting.  We had already been through the vineyard several times taking out diseased fruit to try and stop it spreading.  When we decided it was time to harvest, we had to inspect every bunch of fruit – either to flick out diseased berries, or to drop the whole bunch. Coincidentally, our sons and one of their wives had planned a visit from Taiwan that year.  So the day after they arrived, shifting from temperatures in the 30s to temperatures in the low teens, they were out there helping us harvest.  The things you do for family.  This was also the year that Country Calendar decided to do a show on us.  Not exactly the best year of showing off our vineyard.  But the resulting wine, our current release of Pinot Gris, was lovely.  You can judge it for yourself.

Perhaps the most memorable was the harvest in the first COVID lock down in 2019.  When the lock down was announced, we were still a couple of weeks away from harvest.  Our initial thought was that we would not be allowed to harvest, and we would have to watch the grapes rot on the vines.  A week later it was clarified that we could proceed so long as we could show we would do it safely.  Much paperwork and planning later, we were ready.  We have often had friends, neighbours and staff from restaurants who sell our wine come and help with harvest.  This year they were incredible.  The staff from Wellington restaurants who were locked in small apartments, were particularly keen to have a legitimate excuse to come over the hill to Martinborough to help.  Briefings were done with everyone standing two metres apart from each other.  Everyone was given numbered gloves and snips so that they could keep track of what gear they were using and not touch anyone else’s.  People were sent into separate rows, to keep their distance.  The weather cooperated by being warm, sunny and still so lunch was with everyone sitting at a distance from each other on the lawn.  It was not our most efficient harvest, but it was possibly our most fun.  The Pinot Noir we harvested that year made beautiful wine.  There is still some left if you want to try it.

Harvesting at Blue Earth Estate vineyard. New Zealand fine wine.