The harvest under the microscope: what you need to know about this crucial step

The harvest for the 2023 vintage ended at the beginning of October, around ten days ahead of those of 2022. Let's remind us the issues and principles of this main stage in the life of our wines.


Cagettes contenant les recoltes des raisins destinés au vin blanc du Château La Rose Perriere

The harvests

What are the harvests?

A crucial stage in the vine cycle and in the work of the winegrower, the harvest corresponds to the harvest of the grapes which have reached maturity. There is an ideal time to pick up each grape variety, each terroir and even each plot. This ancestral ritual rewards a whole year of work by the winegrower and his team.

When do they start?

The harvest generally takes place between August and October for the northern hemisphere depending on the wine-growing regions and terroirs. They are conditioned by three factors:

  • Weather. The exact date may vary depending on the determining climatic conditions of the preceding weeks and months. Exposure to the sun and increased temperatures, due in particular to climate change, can cause the vine's vegetative and reproductive cycles to advance. The ripening of the grapes then takes place earlier in the season, leading to an earlier harvest than usual.
  • The harvest ban: Today, the harvest ban is a prefectural decree setting the official date of the first day of the harvest. The prefecture publishes the banns on the recommendation of the Inao (National Institute of Origin and Quality) and the wine unions. This recommendation now has a symbolic dimension; certain winegrowers are sometimes obliged to bring forward this lifting of the banns due to the maturity of their grapes. The harvest gives rise in certain regions or communes such as Saint-Emilion to festivities to celebrate the start of the harvest.
  • The winegrower: they remain the sole master of the harvest. After sampling the berries in order to taste and analyze them, they determine whether the ripening of the grapes is optimal and thus decides the harvest date according to the production objectives.

The type of wine you want to produce, the type of grape variety and the age of the vines will also have an impact on the choice of harvest date. Not all grape varieties will necessarily be harvested at the same time. For example, grapes intended to produce dry white wine will be harvested well before those intended for late harvest wines. This explains why certain neighboring plots can be harvested a few days apart.

In the Southern Hemisphere, the harvest takes place earlier in the year, between March and April.


How long do harvest last ?

No regulatory duration is established. The harvest can last from a few days to a few weeks depending on the size of the vineyard, the desired plot harvests, the type of grape (varietal), the type of wine produced, the harvest method, the number of pickers, etc. The harvest ends when all the grapes have been picked!


What is the difference between manual harvesting and mechanical harvesting?

Each winegrower has his own preference and defends it fervently. One thing is certain: both have advantages and disadvantages that the winegrower considers according to their constraints and the characteristics of the vineyard (surface area and types of grape varieties in particular).


Une vendangeuse récolte le raisin à la main dans les vignes du Château La Rose Perriere


Manual harvests are carried out by grape pickers who are often employed for the occasion. Sorting the bunches or berries requires knowledge and rigor on the part of the harvesters. These harvests are traditional and even ancestral. They allow the careful harvesting of the best berries, the selection of noble grains and putting aside damaged ones. They are carried out in all types of vineyards but particularly chosen for vineyards located on steep terrain. This type of harvest also involves less stress for the vines and better preservation of the bunches.

More expensive because they require significant labor, they generally last longer and are therefore less profitable.

Mechanical harvesting is carried out by harvesting machines equipped with an on-board sorting system and vibrating, lifting and tilting transport bins. Faster and therefore more profitable than manual harvesting, they have gained popularity among winegrowers in recent years. However, they can have two disadvantages: that of not allowing optimal quality control on the grapes and that of causing damage to the bunches. Reasons why certain vineyards have chosen to prohibit mechanical harvesting.

However, in certain particularly hot regions, the harvest must be carried out quickly so that the sun and the heat do not damage the harvest. Mechanical harvesting is therefore particularly suitable. The specifications for the “Organic Agriculture” label also authorize this method.

machine de vendanges mécaniques

©Matthias Böckel de Pixabay


Not commonly practiced, harvesting with a horse is particularly suitable for the oldest vines. One or two horses hitched to a trailer are guided through the tight rows of vines. As the pickers advance along the rows of vines, the pickers' baskets are emptied into the boxes stacked on the trailer. Once filled, the horse(s) pull the trailer to the cellar. The hitch has the advantage of compacting the ground less than a tractor and a skip and constitutes significant comfort for the grape pickers who also find a pleasant social bond with the horses.


Specific harvests: green harvests and late harvests

Stage of the vine's vegetative cycle, the green harvest, also called "thinning", consists of passing through the rows of vines to lighten and strip the vines that are too heavy in bunches. Clusters that are still green or identified as being of lower quality or not sufficiently ripe are thus removed in order to allow better maturation and concentration of the remaining clusters and optimal yield from the vine. They take place at the start of grape ripening, during veraison when the grapes begin to color and swell. The bunches deemed excess are removed, the vine/grape yield is thus reduced, suggesting a more concentrated wine. However, these harvests are not practiced by all winegrowers.

Late harvests are the harvest of over-ripe grapes. The over-ripening of the berries in the sun, desired by the winemaker, leads to a much higher sugar concentration giving rise to sweet and sweet wines with a particular character. The mention “late harvest” on wine bottles is rare because it is reserved for exceptional wines with a higher cost price.

The latest harvests are those of ice wines. In fact, they are made from frozen berries, collected at night, in the middle of winter.


What about Château La Rose Perrière ?

At Château La Rose Perrière, the harvest began this year at the very beginning of September. The harvest is carried out mainly manually by a team of harvesters who know our vineyard very well because they have worked with our team for years. The harvests are carried out in plots, thus following the staggered progress in the maturation of the grape varieties.

Vendangeurs dans les vignes pour les vendanges manuelles du Château La Rose Perriere

Vendanges manuelles dans les vignes du Château La Rose Perrière

Cagette remplies de Merlot recoltes au Chateau La Rose Perriere
Vendangeurs apportant les cagettes de la recolte dans le chai du Château La Rose Perriere
Bruno Responsable d’exploitation du Chateau la Rose Perriere receptionne les raisins recoltes dans le chai
Bruno Responsable d’exploitation du Château la Rose Perrière réceptionne les raisins blancs (Sauvignon blanc) récoltés avant pressurage dans le chai

Around the harvest

Celebration of the harvest

The grape harvest tradition is as old as the history of viticulture itself. Always considered a highlight of the year for a vineyard and an appellation, the harvest is elevated to the rank of celebrations and even sometimes wine tourism experiences, as for example in Burgundy with the Paulée festival, a term used echoing the last shovel of grapes poured into the press. In Bordeaux and the South-West, it is called the Gerbaude or Gerbebaude, a term originally referring to the large sheaf decorated with flowers placed on the last cart of the harvest. In Beaujolais, it is called R’voule. As you will have understood, these moments of intensive work, joy and festivities where families and workers come together are deeply rooted in the wine culture of many regions.


Saint-Emilion harvest ban: an ancestral tradition perpetuated

In Saint-Emilion, the harvest ban is a prestigious and ancestral wine tradition that dates back to medieval times. It takes place every year on the 3rd Sunday of September since the reconstitution of the Jurade in 1948. It is an opportunity for everyone to attend the procession in traditional costume of around a hundred members of the Jurade called “Jurats”, oenological brotherhood founded in the 13th century. The procession is followed by a banquet during which the president or "judge" gives a speech summarizing the history of the wine region and the work accomplished throughout the year by winegrowers and winegrowers. He then officially declares the opening of the harvest. This unique ceremony brings together several thousand people from all over the world each year to enjoy the show.

La Jurade de Saint-Emilion célèbre le Ban des vendanges en 2012 - Copyright Les Vins de Saint-Emilion

And after the harvest?

The harvest marks the end of the winemaker's missions. Then begin those of the winegrower-winemaker who will put his know-how at the service of the production of his wines. The harvest is now finished, it's time for vinification in the Château la Rose Perrière cellar!


Vinification - fermentation dans le chai du chateau la rose perriere