By Simone Bergese
Harvest is a paradox. Vines mature their fruit for reproduction purposes, so that the seeds contained in the berries fall to the ground and eventually germinate a new plant. The life cycle continues on and on. Then along came the homosapiens, who first tried eating the grapes as fresh fruit after it ripened. Then, guided by Mother Nature, they experienced that very same sweet juice as it became something extraordinary, a warming, tasty and magical liquid which they discovered made life a lot easier.
Wine just happens overnight! This fact is as true today as it was thousands of years ago. Wine will always happen organically because of the yeasts which naturally occur on the berries’ skin and in the air. These microorganisms are solely responsible for the transformation of sugars into alcohol (so please, remember the holy yeasts in your prayers because your life would be miserable without them).
As for the majority of today’s human agricultural interventions, essentially we watched, experienced, learned and reproduced that process. Overtime, we perfected the system into what you experience today. A winemaker like myself learns through both studying and practical hands-on experience how to master this natural microbiological and chemical-matter transformation for the purpose of creating a product that is both drinkable and delicious!
Until now, you may think it doesn’t seem that hard to accomplish a task that will happen naturally with or without our influence. The truth is however, those berries contain a lot more to use and orchestrate than just sugars. Those ever-essential yeasts actually need constant oversight in order to act at their best and deliver a perfect performance.
Did you know 85 percent of the overall wine quality is tied directly to the harvest and the essential first few winemaking steps? Those steps only represent a small amount of time during the complete winemaking process. Little mistakes in these crucial first phases will result in a mediocre final wine product.
When to harvest; how to harvest; how to store the grapes; how to destem, crush and press them are the first initial and critical decisions every winemaker has to make. After that, how to store the juice; how to prepare and inoculate yeasts; which temperature to use in fermentation; how long and how to manage the maceration between juice and skins of the red grapes are all actions taken based on the variety itself and on the final wine product the winemaker has in mind. This wine may not go into a bottle for six months to five years after the harvest and yet, if the initial steps were not done well, everything will be compromised.
Five years ago I created the 10 commandments during harvest time, and the top four were:
- Don’t talk to the winemaker.
- Don’t look too long into the eyes of the winemaker.
- Don’t ask to the winemaker how it is going.
- Don’t worry about answering, the winemaker is just talking to himself.
Now you know why!
Simone Bergese is a national and internationally award-winning winemaker from Alba, Italy and holds a degree in Oenology and Viticulture from the Turin University in Northern Italy. After working in a number of well-known wineries in Italy, Australia and Virginia, he joined Château Élan in 2013. Simone’s Chateau Elan wines since won over 150 awards at prestigious wine competitions.