Defining the exact moment to harvest is both an art and a science. We keep a close eye on the grapes from veraison (which is the beginning of the ripening process) onwards and, as harvest approaches, we wander through the vineyard sampling the grapes. We are looking for a number of things, but principally sugars, acids and phenolics. First, we are looking for ‘sugar ripeness’, which describes the right amount of sugars in the berry to produce the desired level of alcohol in the wine. Next, we monitor the acid levels in the grapes, and we look for the ‘sweet spot’ where there is a balance between the sweetness of the sugars and the refreshing tartness of the acidity. The grapes’ acids are also important for the colour, structure and ageing potential of the wine. Finally, we look at ‘phenolic ripeness’ which is that moment in time when the grape’s phenolic compounds (anthocyanins and tannins) are mature. These are to be found in the stems and in the skin and seeds of the berry, and they are vital for colour, flavour, complexity, and ageing. When these three different measures of ripeness line up, it’s time to pick! It’s all a question of balance, and this is the art. Typically, the window is small and it’s a game of chance as the early autumn weather constantly tests our nerves.
At Montecalvi, we have the advantage of being small, so we can harvest our vineyards separately and can make a number of passes so that we pick only when the time is right. This takes a certain combination of courage and luck, but the most important element is the picking crew – and we have arguably the best in the game led by Yahya and Marco.
Wish us luck for the busy weeks ahead!