lunedì 7 marzo 2016

Notes on natural, raw wines: thoughts and considerations (part two), the grape harvest

The grape harvest is called vendemmia in Italian, from the latin word VINDIMIA. No other product on earth uses this name for its harvest. Vendemmia also means prosperity, benefit, profit. Sometimes all you need to do is say the word and a smile appears. If we look over the centuries at how it is represented in literature and paintings or reproduced in art, we must conclude that it’s an event with a certain amount of fascination. The harvest ends a cycle of skill, great work, hopes, holds disappointments and promise. It reveals our inability to fully uncover nature’s complexity and, above all, teaches us patience. Additionally in the production of natural wine, the grape harvest is inexorable. After all, it’s all in the hands of natural processes (yeast, bacteria, biochemical reactions) with the intelligent assistance of the profession.

Harvested Vineyard
I was really young, maybe 4 or 5 years old, but I remember we often spoke of the grape harvests, especially the difficult, almost desperate ones when rain kept us out of the vineyard. The men went to the grape harvest with heavy canvas bag on their heads and their backs covered (they were the same men who, during a storm, went out armed with a hoe to channel the water and fix any unwanted streams). We harvested silently, patiently waiting for a lull in the rain. Sometimes, you returned home for a quick break in front of the always-burning fireplace… and meanwhile, the fog consumed the grape skins and our hopes. These images are still alive in my head and helped me grow and understand that patience and perseverance are necessities in life. As these situations occurred frequently in the environment, it explains why, the choice of specific territories and the cultivation of certain varieties was so important, including their association with the, albeit limited, space and size of the vineyard... long before other means (specialised mechanisation, more effective pesticides, synthetic fertilisers, irrigation) were available in some places.

The grape harvest is a professional activity from which many different results can be obtained. For this, we must prepare the vineyard well for years, a fundamental task to overcome difficult events and, normally, this can only be fully implemented over small surfaces. The moment you implement the harvest is of critical importance. But that’s not enough. You must instruct the harvesters, harvest with them and understand their difficulties, misunderstandings, doubts; but also explain what you want with practical examples and checks. This is the mandatory premise if you’re to talk of organic-natural wines. Do not underestimate these rigorous choices. They involve a certain reduction in yields, do not guarantee regularity of production and quality over the years, and there’s the certainty of some ‘lost’ years. But also the potential for truly amazing vintages.

The grape Barbera...ready
A lesson in grape harvest
In my memory, the year 1977 marked a big ‘rift’ between the grape harvest and the gathering of grapes, especially in the case of the White Moscato grape in Piedmont. Climatically, it was a year without sun and with incessant rains, in short, a real setback for the grapes. For me, it was my first opportunity to see how the grape harvest was becoming a task of total ‘collection’; after all, they’d worry about it in the cellar. Then the wine sector divided into three groups: those who dedicated themselves increasingly to a perfect harvesting choice, those who entrusted it to mechanical harvesting and those who went on with manual but almost undifferentiated harvesting.
 
Not-to-be-missed colours of the Procanico
The wine world knows the difficulties of the grape harvest and so it is equipped to overcome them (legislation, processing of musts and wines, additives...) because it does not want to take any risk, but achieve consistency and regularity: the high road for more reliable economic forecasts. These are safety nets that natural wine does not make use of, but not everyone has the ability to bring to the cellar grapes ideal for its production. The peculiarities and difficulties of obtaining grapes able to evolve into natural, raw wine therefore makes it a rare and precious product.

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