Wine harvest

Red wine grapes waiting for the harvest
Red wine grapes waiting for the harvest

The wine harvest in the Palatinate lasts from September to October. In October the vineyards turn from green into a red-orange color tone, marking the beginning of fall. Depending on the vineyard’s specific location and the wine variety, the wine-growers decide the right moment to start the harvest. Most vineyards are accessible via a harvester machine, which allows the wine-growers to collect the grapes in a very short period of time. If a winery is planning to sell the wine at a high-quality level, it might select the grapes by hand. There are different quality categories that may be later printed on the label of the wine bottle.

A flock of common starlings in the sky
A flock of common starlings in the sky

In the weeks before and during the harvest the wine grapes are in their most vulnerable state. There are two kinds of enemies every wine-grower is fighting: first, different kinds of animals and insects, and, second, the weather. Birds that love eating the precious wine grapes are the common starling, the sparrow and the blackbird. Among these, the most dangerous is the common starling, as this species of birds groups in fall to fly further south. To protect against straying flocks of starlings, the wine-growers place nets on top of the vineyards or they use gas-based bang-machines to drive off the starlings.

Pheromone tube tied to the vinePheromone tube tied to the vine
Pheromone tube tied to the vine

Besides the birds, there are butterflies called Eupoecilia ambiguella and Lobesia botrana that use the vines as nesting sites in spring. As a result worms may harm the grapes and also cause other microbes to attack the plant. To avoid the nesting of those butterflies, scientists have developed a technique that uses the female hormone pheromone. This hormone confuses the male butterflies in such a way that they cannot find the female butterflies, so copulation does not take place. The pheromone is usually placed in a brown tube that is tied to the vine.

Hail protection net on top of a vineyard
Hail protection net on top of a vineyard

The weather is another major challenge for the wine-growers. During late summer, the grapes are exposed to hail or frost, which cause serious damage and may lead to a crop shortfall. Upcoming disturbances are usually predicted by meteorologists, so often there are warnings and the wine-growers are in the position to initiate countermeasures. However, the only chance to avoid damage resulting from hail is by placing special nets on top of the vineyards. Lately, helicopters have been used for the first time to protect the grapes from frost damage. The helicopter’s propeller prevents the warm air from escaping during night so no frost can damage the grapes. Obviously, those measures are rather costly and it depends on the value of the vineyard which countermeasures the wine-growers may choose.

Even if there are only 3,000 active wineries and wine cooperatives in the Palatinate, every local is somehow involved in the ongoing wine activities. This becomes particularly true during the wine harvest. At this period every local turns into an amateur scientist analyzing weather conditions and their impact on the upcoming harvest. There is a general relief in the region when the wine harvest ends and wine-growers proclaim a successful year.