Man Vs Machine : Are Hand-Picked Grapes Better Than Machine-Harvested?
Came across this great article about the reasons why wineries choose hand harvesting or machine harvesting when it comes to picking grapes.
Below was a informative comment in reply to some other comments left by users who were either coming in from left field or right....
"The decision to hand or machine harvest a particular vineyard is not something you decide on an annual basis. You make the choice when you plan and plant your vineyard, as that choice comes with a linked set of other decisions. Three examples:
Machine: You typically would not hand-harvest a large vineyard set up with long and wide row spacing for tractor access on flat, irrigated property, especially when the grapes will be sent elsewhere for wine production at 4-6-8+ tons per acre. In Texas the acreage in the High Plains is converted farmland acreage. The plots are vast, the rows are long, and the historic farming culture favors machine over man. And there is no historic basis for labor in hand harvesting. We are seeing good use of improved mechanical harvesters, and the wine quality improves year over year. But aside from a few special plots, and there are always exceptions to this program, this will be a machine-harvested region.
Hand and Machine: That said, in the Hill Country region, there are smaller plots (and more expensive land value), with individual owners or smaller wineries. The vineyards are planted, in many cases, with greater density and tighter spacing suitable for hand-harvesting from the get-go. Only a few vineyards boast anything as large as 30-40 acres, usually planted a wide array of grape varietals on hand, with several wineries pulling fruit from that vineyard at different times. Sometimes they send crews, sometimes the vineyard owner will harvest with his own crew or his own machine. Winery production is just a few minutes away, rather than hours. Much of this is hand-harvested. And the wine pricing generally supports this tradition-inspired method.
Best of Both: In Bordeaux, the large Classified Growth chateaux have generational history of consistent labor for vineyard care, from planting, pruning, and harvest. I trained there in 2008, and when I visited again in 2013, my trainer was easily found in the same vineyard at Chateau Margaux. Pruners are often assigned the same rows year after year for specific familiarity with vines. A few things are changing in that the Chateaux no longer are obliged to provide on-site housing, so often, the labor is picked up in the morning and brought to the vineyard for the day. Thankfully, the traditional family-style lunches are still supported! But the hand-selected fruit is treated like blue gemstones - hand carried, conveyed to sorting triage with human and optical sorting regimens, then dropped in clusters by gravity into immaculate tanks for specific control.
So the choice to Hand-Harvest means you are making lots of other choices that make sense for the entire process, from vine to wine. Either way, it's a long-term commitment."