For at least one producer in Montefalco, yesterday marked the first day of the vendemmia or harvest . I made the 40 minute drive from Perugia to take up my forbici (shears) and do some work. I spent the morning in the fields with the team learning the ropes of the harvest.
The necessary equipment is basic; gloves, clippers and a basket. There was a team of about 10 harvesters plus the foreman and tractor driver.
The tractor goes between the vines and we worked on both sides — moving quickly in a line to remove the grapes from the vine. Once your basket is filled it is unloaded into the trailer pulled by the tractor.
The workers on the inside line with the tractor have the extra duty of un-loading the baskets of those on the outside as well. In the interest of fairness, the workers alternate between the sunny and shady sides of the vines so that everyone got some relief from what was a rather HOT September afternoon. The workday began at 7 AM and we broke for lunch at 12 noon on the nose. Everyone was ready for a break!
I had a lunch of baked lasagna followed by mortadella and proscuitto with the owners. We washed it all down with beer and some Coca-Cola. After breathing, seeing and smelling grapes all morning, nobody was in the mood to drink wine. My co-workers took their break in the coolness of the cellar at a small wooden table. At 1:30, the rumble of the tractor announced that it was time to get to work once again.
The harvest began today because the small amount of Merlot at this vineyard was ready. These grapes will be used for a red table wine as well as the local favorite, Montefalco Rosso. I spent some time with Simona in the vineyard as she analysed the vines to plan out the rest of the week.
She uses a refractometer to check the sugar content and ripeness of the Sagrantino, Sangiovese, and Montepulciano grapes. She also did a manual test of chewing a grape and crushing the pit with her teeth. She then spit it into her hand to check the maturity of the pit. She determined that, as expected, these other red grapes will need some time before they are harvested.
I spent the rest of the afternoon in the cellar receiving truckloads of grapes. They are de-stemmed, crushed and the must is then pumped into a large temperature controlled fermentation tank. Work ended with the last load of grapes and clean-up at around 5 PM. I’ll be back on Thursday to help out with the harvest of Grechetto, the local white grape.