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The Italian Grape Harvest – What You Need to Know

We’re drawing towards that time of year again.

Italian wine producers have spent months tending their crops. They’ve worked tirelessly to ensure that the grapes that they produce are as good as they can possibly be.

Now, it’s the time of year for those efforts to bear fruit.

As of August 7th, the Italian grape harvest has officially begun. Producers all over the country have started the long and laborious process of plucking their vines and sorting the quality grapes from the poor ones so that they can make their latest vintages as good as they can be.

So, what happens during the harvest? We’re going to look into some of the details.

An Early Start

As mentioned, the Italian grape harvest started on August 7th. Not all producers will harvest their grapes from this date, of course. Some grapes take a little longer to reach maturity and conditions aren’t consistent across the country.

Still, the harvest has begun in earnest. And those who have experience with it may recognise that it’s started earlier than normal this year.

Typically, the Italian grape harvest tends to start during early or mid-autumn. 

But the weather has had an influence.

Italy has experienced a warmer summer than normal. In fact, it experienced heatwaves during the middle portion of the year.

Hotter weather means that many grape varieties reach maturity much faster. That means the harvest has to start a little earlier to ensure that they’re plucked at the perfect time for them to be turned into quality Italian wines.

When Does it End?

It really all depends on the type of grape.

Many grapes, such as table grapes, reach maturation early even without the weather being a factor. Of course, these grapes aren’t used to make Italian wine. But they need to be harvested just the same.

As for the grapes that are used for wine, the harvesting period tends to last for a couple of months. Traditionally, the grapes are plucked by the end of October. However, the earlier start for this year could lead to them all being plucked by the end of September of the beginning of October.

It all depends on how the weather has affected different grape types.

Still, this is good news for wine lovers. Those who want to see what a winery is like during the business end of the growing season now have a couple of months to visit so that they can see what happens.

If you go today, you’ll see people tending the vines. In some cases, you may see huge machines making short work of stripping the plants of their fruit. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll get to see some winemakers start the early process of extracting the juice from the grapes.

But if you leave it too late to visit a vineyard, you’ll miss all of it. 

By the time November rolls around, all of the grapes will be plucked and processed. By this point, they’re in the early fermentation and ageing periods.

Or if you want to catch the harvest, you’d best schedule a visit before the end of October. In fact…make it the end of September, just to be on the safe side.

How Does a Producer Know When to Pick

As we mentioned, there’s some variance in terms of the ideal time to start harvesting. Different grape varieties reach their peaks at different times, so not every producer has started plucking as of August 7th.

That raises an interesting question.

When do producers now that it’s time to start the harvest?

First, they’ll look out for a process called veraison. This essentially marks the metamorphosis of the small and hard bud that’s on the vine into something that looks like a grape.

Once this process starts, the waiting period for maturation can be anywhere between 30 and 70 days. Typically, veraison occurs at some point in July.

The producers will monitor the grapes closely during this period. That’s because this is when the action really happens. During this transition, the grape will develop its sweetness and acidity, which are both important factors to consider when making a wine vintage. Ideally, the grape will contain a lot of sugar, as this makes it ideal for the fermentation process.

Producers will often pluck a few grapes to test them as they mature. Again, they’re looking at the sugar levels. However, they’re also looking to see how those levels balance out against the grape’s acidity. As the sugar level in the grape increases, the acidity drops.

Plucking too early means you get a very acidic wine that’s not pleasant to the taste. But plucking too late could result in a grape that has almost no acidity, which is almost as bad.

So this is a period of constant testing until the grapes achieve the balance that the producer is looking for.

What Happens Next?

The grapes get plucked.

Now, you may imagine this as a mad dash to ensure the grapes get picked at peak maturity. And that may be the case for producers who create large amounts of table wine at bulk.

However, other producers will take their time during this period. That’s because they’re purposefully limiting their picking so that they end up with only the best possible grapes from the harvest.

Of course, this means that they produce fewer bottles of wine. But the trade-off is that the wine that they do produce is of such exceptionally high quality that they can command higher prices for it.

At least, that’s the idea.

The More Important Time

Right now may be the most important time of the year for the Italian wine industry.

Producers all over the country are either harvesting their crops or examining the closely to determine when they should start.

This year’s harvest will produce the wines that we’ll be drinking in a few years’ time.

We hope that all producers out there have an amazing harvest so that they can create their best wines yet. After all, we consumers reap the benefits of a good harvest season.

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