Saturday, 20 September 2008

Inside the monster

This is the inside and outside of a grape harvesting machine. In the pic on the right the side hoppers are normally lower was just being cleaned at the end of the day and the kids thought it looked like a monster. The machine is loud and bulky. The grapes are essentially riddled as they pass through the white bars (that look like whalebones) on the left. The grapes and bunches drop down in to the plastic light brown pouches which then transfer the grapes in to the big side hoppers. When the hoppers are full they are emptied in to a trailer and the grapes are taken to the winery.
More and more machines are being used around the South of France and the traditional pickers are becoming scarce.
Some stats:
1.It takes 8 pickers and two porters/tractor drivers one day to pick one hectare of grapes by hand. The grapes arrive steadily at the winery over the course of the day. The grapes will be in good condition (bunches intact)with very little abrasion. Perfect for making wine. Presuming all 10 workers are earning the basic agricultural minimum wage then this is a costly exercise.
2. It takes one man driving a grape harvest machine and one man driving the tractor with trailer approximately 2-3 hours to pick the same area (one hectare). The grapes arrive much quicker at the winery, however they have been severely shaken/battered.

The advantages of hand picking are obviously the quality of the grapes. However the economic advantage of the grape harvest machine are also significant. The machines have certainly evolved enormously over the last few years and they are less hard on the grapes....but there is still a lot of free run juice arriving with the grapes at the winery, which is not ideal when the winemaker wants to control the fermentation more precisely. The other advantage of the machine is the pure speed. The vineyard owner can be far more precise for harvest and also pick all his grapes at absolute optimum ripeness...whereas a team of pickers take a long time to get around all the vines.
I love tradition but these monster machines seem to be taking over.....this machine cost €70,000. The cost/investment should be justified over a five year period.

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