I absolutely love making wine and the entire process of growing grapes. I am constantly amazed at how something as small as grapes can create so much juice. However, there is one part that I dislike this time of year, and that is harvesting grapes.
Unless you have a harvest day and invite the entire town to help you pick or you are a multi-million dollar wine business with a machine picker, believe me, this time of year can be bittersweet. What makes it sweet is that the grapes are ripe and ready, and what makes it bitter is the huge task at hand. If you have a small to a medium-sized vineyard, then you will most likely be watching everyone else pick the grapes for you as you oversee the entire operation.
The Brix Level of Grapes:
You are ready to harvest your grapes when the grape brix level has reached the sugar content that you desire. In certain climate conditions and depending on the grape variety, you may have to pick your clusters before you reach your desired brix level or your grapes will rot. Some growers allow their grapes to rot and dry out and re-hydrate the grape to get its natural sugar content.
In Kentucky, most vineyard owners pick clusters at a lower Brix level which may be between 16 to 19 Brix. Even the birds and wild turkeys shy away from the vines because they know the grape is not ripe. The desired Brix level starts at 24 Brix or higher.
The Best Time to Pick Grapes:
When is the best time to pick grapes? One important thing to remember is to never pick grapes on a rainy day. Some vineyard owners will not pick their grapes if it has rained the previous night. This is because extra water from the rain can plump up the berries, diluting the flavors and disturbing the balance of sugar and acid for ideal wine-making. Many grape owners, including me, favor picking grape clusters just before sunrise. There are many reasons behind this, many of them practical: if you start late, it will be a long, hot day. Starting early will also help you beat the insects.
If clusters are hanging properly it makes cutting the grape clusters a lot easier and faster. One healthy bountiful vine cane produces up to one gallon of wine which equals 5 - 750 ml bottles of wine. I have 1100 vines, which makes about 360 cases of wine.
After an extremely long day of cutting clusters, fighting bumblebees, wasps, removing birds’ nests, and other insects, our job is still not finished. After this, it’s on to processing the grapes to make wine. This is another important and systematic process within itself. Anyone who’s interested in growing their own grapes should go for it, but they need to study the process and nurturing of grapes before they begin. Despite their love and dedication for it, most vineyard owners say this to themselves at harvest: "What have I got myself into? I must be crazy."