September has finally come and in Italy is time for vendemmia, the grape harvest. Definitely the most important time of the year here at San Michele and all around Tuscany and Italy. It’s a joyful experience with a lot of hard work. Everyone in the farm heads to the vineyards to pick the juicy, full-flavored grapes, ready to be turned in our delectable organic wine.
As you might know, Italy is one of the world’s main wine producers. From north to south, you can find exceptional wines in many different varieties. Our organic farm, San Michele a Torri is located in the heart of Chianti, by hills just above the city of Florence covers 1482,63 acres of land in total, from which 160 acres are filled with vineyards. The estate is located between two important regions of wine production: Chianti Colli Fiorentini and Chianti Classico. The wine production is simply excellent here, thanks to the richness of its soil and the organic methods applied to obtain perfumed, velvety, and strong character wines. It is well known that San Michele Organic Farm produces award winning organic wines, but not many know about the interesting journey the grapes go through to be processed. One of the most important parts of this journey is the harvest, vendemmia in italian.
The word vendemmia, derives from the Latin word vīnum, which means vino, wine. This occasion is when the grapes, which have grown in the vineyard throughout the year, are harvested and taken to the cellar to begin the extraordinary winemaking process. It’s during this process that the fermentation of the sugars contained in the ripe grapes transforms into alcohol and subsequently into the god’s elixir: wine.
In Italy, the vendemmia is not only an important agricultural annual event but is a ritual that over centuries has become engraved in this country’s history, culture, and tradition.
Some traditions go back to Ancient Rome, on August 19th the “Vinalia Rustica” festival was celebrated in honor of the god Jupiter, to receive his blessing, and to begin with the harvest festivities. In this period the grapes were harvested by hand with knife-like tools and deposited in containers, up to this day it is still done this way on many farms. Afterward, the grapes were taken in the “Iacus vinario”, these were large tanks where grapes were pressed and the juice was collected. During these days all other activities were suspended as entire families would contribute and work solely to work in the vineyards collecting the grapes. This became a community and social activity to celebrate and spend time together with the same purpose.
Over many centuries the “ritual” of harvesting kept many of these characteristics, the commitment and respect to the event, festivities, and parties to celebrate a year of prosperity, an occasion not only for work but also for social gatherings. Up to this day on many farms, friends, relatives, and neighbors gather in the vineyards to harvest after a hard year of working in the vineyard, to then gather at a table to eat and drink together, toasting for prosperous harvests for the years to come.
In the Chianti area, harvest usually takes place in September, there is no specific date for the beginning of harvest as it depends on the weather conditions throughout the year. For instance this year due to summer’s high temperatures and lack of rain, harvest began earlier than usual. Based on the type of wine, different parameters have to be taken into account to determine the best period to begin harvesting. To have an ideal type of grape to process into wine, it is necessary to have optimal vines, soils, and climatic conditions, as well as correct vineyard management techniques. After a year of growth and maturity, the grapes reach their perfect maturity state. These quality grapes have to be whole and free from flaws (such as bugs or mold).
Harvest can be done with two methods: manual and mechanized. Manual harvest is done by hand, the bunches are carefully cut from the stalk using specific scissors. It is at this moment that collectors inspect each bunch of grapes, collecting only the quality ones. These are then placed in baskets or boxes that are then loaded into small trucks to be processed, crushed and de-stemmed, obtaining the wine must, one of the main ingredients to prepare wine.
Mechanized harvest is done with machines that are equipped with a harvesting head that moves freely and continuously through the vineyard rows; these machines adapt to the plants and vegetation around them to avoid damage. Other machines are attached to the vine and shake the plant to detach the grape bunches by the stem. These are collected immediately with special collecting devices. The grapes are then placed into belts that carry them into storage tanks, where vacuum cleaners carefully eliminate other plants or objects that might have been collected in the process. Afterward, the grapes are inspected and selected to keep only quality grapes.
Without a doubt the process of harvesting grapes has changed over the centuries, as new technologies and developments are achieved, work and collection times have shortened. Nevertheless, the ritual of vendemmia still brings up to this day great enthusiasm and interest. It is the richness of its historical and social value that has kept the tradition alive and preserved.