The Vineyard Harvest Experience - Bluebell Vineyard Estates

The Vineyard Harvest Experience

What is harvest?
Harvest is the final stage of our vines' yearly cycle. After a long year of maintaining the vines for the best possible quality fruit, it is time for us to reap the benefits and bring in the grapes. Harvest typically begins in mid-September and lasts 4 weeks but timings change depending on the year's weather conditions. On an average year, we would expect to bring in 100 tonnes of fruit so this is a very crucial time in our calendar.

How do we know when to begin harvesting?
To determine the correct time to begin harvesting, Kevin and Laurence (our Winemaker and Assistant Winemaker) scrutinise the fruit closely. They spend the weeks leading up to harvest monitoring the berries, taking samples of the fruit and testing them for sugar and acidity. The higher the sugars in the fruit the more ready we are to begin. If the berries are picked too soon, their underripeness will result in more acidity and less sugar meaning the wine will be more acidic tasting and will have less potential to develop a good amount of alcohol; this could lead to a higher chance of us having to intervene with chaptalization which we prefer not to do wherever possible. Chaptalization is the process of adding sugar to a pressed juice. We sometimes do this to bring our wines up to 10.5%-11.5% potential alcohol. Underripe fruit also means there would be less phenolic ripeness so it is harder to bring out the fruit characteristics we love in each varietal. If the fruit is left unpicked for too long it can be susceptible to disease, local wildlife will start to eat it or it can even rot on the vine!

What is harvest in the field like?
A typical day of harvest for our Field Team starts at 8am. They arrive ready for a long day of work joined by our wonderful volunteers and temporary harvesters, as we need all hands on deck during this busy time. Kevin begins the day with a briefing, letting the team know what varietals they will be harvesting that morning. He keeps a close eye on each varietal's progress to ensure that we are picking each one at its peak time. Our field team then head to the vines towing large buckets on sledges behind them that will be filled with fruit as they pick. They work until 1pm when lunch for most of the team begins. However, our more experienced members have further work to do. They bring the grapes back to the winery and weigh them. Our winery team will then begin pressing. After an hours lunch, our field team are back out in the vines to repeat the process until 5pm or when the block is finished. At this time volunteers and temporary harvesters head home while some of Bluebell's field team finish picking up the grapes (sometimes until 7pm) and then head to the winery to assist Kevin and Laurence.

What is harvest in the winery like? 
Back in the winery, Kevin and Laurence are just as busy. When the day begins, they first need to “rack off” the previous days must (unfermented grape juice). This initial racking off involves separating the must from the sediment at the bottom of the tank. They do this by letting the must settle for 12+ hours after pressing and then using a pump hose and specific racking equipment to rack/transfer the must to a sterile tank, leaving behind the unwanted sediment. The must is then chaptalized if required and inoculated. Inoculation is the process of adding yeast to begin an initial ferment. A certain yeast type is decided for each varietal depending on the variety, flavours and pigmentation. Kevin and Laurence then use this yeast to make a small culture, temper it down and then add it to the juice.

Next up the presses need to be cleaned for the field teams hauls arrival at 1pm to ensure processing can begin immediately. All machinery, equipment, surfaces and surroundings need to be kept completely clean to ensure top hygiene standards. This includes cleaning the press between each batch and removing the juice channels between each varietal. Once the field team arrive with their haul, pressing can begin. If we have Tours and Tastings while pressing some lucky customers may get a small glass of the fresh must to compare to the finished wines they are already tasting. Later in the afternoon/early evening, Kevin and Laurence will be joined by members of the field team to assist with pressing the grapes and the deep cleaning of equipment which needs to be done thoroughly each evening. This process can take until onwards of 11pm. The work day often ends with a tasting of the pressings in their juice form. The difference between our initial must and a finished wine is astounding. Sampling the must allows Kevin and Laurence to begin their brainstorming on how best to treat the ferments.

If you are interested in the harvest process and would like to try working in the field for yourself, email us at to learn more about how you can be a crucial part of Bluebell’s 2023 Vintage.


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