Just finished harvesting and we're super happy with the result : great grapes, ripe and excellent quality. Can't wait to see how the wines turn out !
I was recently asked why we do all the grape picking by hand in champagne.
First of all, you need to be aware that champagne is an "appellation controlée" which means that all producers must adhere to guidelines which regulate how champagne can be produced. These guidelines are very strict and do not necessarily make our lives easier, but are meant to assure a certain level of quality for the consumer.
One of these rules is that ALL grapes in champagne are harvested manually.
Why is this? The main reason is because we do whole cluster pressing in Champagne. We want to pick the grape bunches on the stem. A harvesting machine works by shaking the vine and collecting the berries which have fallen off their stems. This rather rough process breaks the skin of the berries, not a big problem if you are making red wine, but definitely not what we want in champagne. To obtain the delicate aromas in champagne, it is essential to avoid any contact with the skin because that can result in hard, bitter (phenolic) caracters in the wine. Some "material other than grape" (i.e. leaves, shoots or the odd lizard...) may be collected along the way, which for obvious reasons we don't want to either. Keep in mind also that we make white wine out of black grapes (in our case, pinot noir) and in order to do this, we have to be sure that none of the coloring agents from the grape skins taint the wine.
However, I won't say that I have never dreamed of an automated grape picker. The reality is that it can be a very stressful period because our team of 2 full time employees suddenly grows to more than 30 over a 10 day period. Finding such a huge supply of labor is difficult, and there are inherent problems in managing so many people. Not to mention the cost. Each grape picker earns at least the minimum wage of 9,53€ per hour, to which is added a 10% vacation benefit, and 10% for temporary contract, which brings us to 11,53€ per hour, not including any overtime. On top of that, the employer pays another 43% of social charges to the goverment. So the overall average cost is somewhere between 4-5000€ per hectare!
Although some noise has been made about allowing mechanical harvesting in champagne, I doubt that day will come soon. The machine doesn't carry with it a very romantic image, and that is also an important componant of champagne!