Nocturnal Picking: Future or Foe

windrow dark sky

One of the next major changes that might occur in the following 5 years for the WA wine scene may be happening at night.  No, not better, longer, crazier parties, though I would attend those, but rather, night harvesting.

Night picking happens by industrial stadium lights mounted on trucks.  They are neither small nor inexpensive.  Crews charge more both for the equipment needed but also because of the toll it takes to flip one’s circadian rhythm around.  They occasionally nap during the day to have the stamina it takes to swiftly harvest dozens of tons in time for a 5 am delivery to a local or quasi-local winery.

glass in sunset

The result is a a fresh winemaking crew to  work on cool fruit.  It is important that you have well rested eyes on the final sorting table before all of the fruit turns into must- a soup of juice and solid skins, seeds and pulp.  Starting with cool fruit helps because it gives the winemaker extra time to let the freshly destemmed fruit before adding yeast.  If you have warm or hot fruit that was picked at 4 pm, bacteria and not so welcome (some are, some aren’t) wild yeasts will have a feast.

When there is a hot harvest, like this year, or an early freeze (2 day window to pick that fruit before bad things take over) small wine regions such as ours do not have well established swarms of crews ready for damage control.  Winemakers, estate picking or not, find themselves with no way of getting fruit in the door in a timely fashion.  This lack of infrastructure actually affects the wines that you drink two, three or twenty years later.  The harvest date of any wine is one of the most important decisions that get made.  If the decision is made but ignored because there is no way to meet the demand, the end result is a poor harvest date.

Night picking demands a premium price.  For now, the valley attitude is that we, on the crush pad, can outwork some of these tonnage and time problems.  Sooner rather than later, I believe, we will find that the valley has grown to need more than just a 12 hour work day for 6 weeks per year.  Some have already come around, but as with electric cars or space travel, your desire to do something, does not turn theory into reality.

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Thanks, Ashley

PS- If we have not lost you, wonderful.  We’ve moved the blog to the new website.  If we didn’t lose you in this last transition, then you are set.

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