The wine harvest typically occurs from the end of August to November in the Northern Hemisphere and anytime from February through to April in the Southern Hemisphere. Apologies if it seems I am pointing out the obvious but a Sauvignon Blanc from the French 2019 vintage will be merely 6 months older than a 2020 from New Zealand, (rather than a full year) and it is worth remembering this subtle difference when you are selecting your next bottle.
The first hint that the harvest is on its way is the “Veraison” or the changing of the colour of the grapes from a universal bright green to either a more mature looking greenish-yellow for the white varieties and anything from pink to dark purple for the reds. This time of year is a time for celebration; many areas in France have an actual day to commemorate it such as the “Fete de La Veraison” in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Usually around the first weekend of August the village turns into something reminiscent of the middle ages. There are jousting events, a market of course, and the stone fountains pour with red wine rather than water. You pay for a tasting glass which can be refilled from the fountains or large casks of wine at will and much merriment ensues.
Back to the grapes, after the change of colour a little more waiting is needed until the winemaker decides they have reached full maturity. This is a very stressful time. Each particular grape variety ripens at a different time which can be useful if a vineyard hosts several different varieties as they can harvest in batches according to ripeness. The winemaker’s worst nightmare is a quick harvest which tests the capacity of wine presses, fermentation vats and storage tanks in the winery.
The desired style of wine being produced is also an important picking factor; white varieties with typically high acidity will need picking as soon are the are ripe to preserve this. Late harvest wines will then be the last to pick but that date is crucial and can often be the make or break of the wine if the weather turns suddenly.
I am frequently asked if I would like to grow vines and produce my own wines; absolutely not, is the answer. Far easier to taste, write, teach and advise, and I suspect a tad less stressful.