It's Harvest Time
September is here in full force. Kids are back to school, beaches are shuttering their restaurants for the season, and people are pulling out their winter coats in anticipation of cooler weather. But for winemakers, this time of year is exceptionally momentous. This is the time of year where the winemakers harvest their grapes.
Already having tackled a year of excitement, anticipation and stress, they have also faced long days pacing their rows of vines, and countless nights of interrupted sleep. In anticipation of unforeseen challenges that come with winemaking, the best winemakers know that wine starts in the vineyard, and attentive vineyard management throughout the season is vitally important. These demanding, time consuming processes oftentimes include cutting back canopies, green harvesting, and measuring sugar levels in the grapes. Nevertheless, we have arrived to the fall season, and the culmination of the entire year happens now. This is their sprint to the finish.
I was curious to have an opportunity to visit a winery or vineyard in South Moravia during harvest. After all, this is when excitement reigns in wine country. Exuding enthusiasm, the winemakers reveal the true passion and dedication of their work. This is a time where their livelihood and profits are dependent on attention to detail. I wanted to capture this thrilling moment alongside the winemakers, to discover the actual processing of the grapes. Fortunately, lady luck had my back and I was invited to spend a day at Vinařství Václav during their harvest and processing period.
Established in 2014, Vinařství Václav, located in Hustopeče, is definitely pulling out all the stops. They produce just 25,000 bottles a year, but are already making a mark for themselves. Their wines are aromatic, expressive and complex, particularly for a winery whose vines are under ten years old. For fine Moravian wine lovers, this is definitely a winery to keep an eye on. I truly believe in their potential. They have engaged Mike Mazey, an Australian wine consultant, who has years of experience producing high quality wine. Additionally, the winery has solid investments in top notch equipment and French oak barrels.
Vinařství Václav certainly has some key advantages regarding their vineyard plots. Firstly, their vines are located on some of the most desirable sites in Kurdějov, located just minutes from their winery. These sloped hillsides provide numerous climatic advantages to their grapes.
A constant, yet cool breeze acts as a natural aeration in the vineyards, whilst longer, sunny afternoons ensure a more constant, lengthy ripening period. This particular area offers a unique microclimate, perfectly suited for Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, and of course, Pálava.
I am no stranger to the winery, I must admit. Back in April, I was featuring two of their wines in a wine tasting at Víno-Klub Brno, and wanted to learn a bit more about the winery. After tasting their range of wines and visiting their winery, I immediately wrote them up in a blog post.
This first visit to Vinařství Václav back in the spring coincided with my parents vacation to Brno. Naturally, my mom tagged along with me. She was in heaven. After a brief stroll through their vineyards, we enjoyed sampling wines straight from the barrel in their cellar. Although the weather was a bit colder during our visit, we both loved their wines and the kind hospitality of the Václav team.
As a wine professional, I was immediately impressed by the overall quality of the Václav wines, vineyard sites and innovative winemaking approaches. I knew, even at that time, that I needed to prioritize a trip to their vineyards during the harvest season.
Ready for Action
I traveled back to Vinařství Václav Monday morning, arriving by public transportation from Brno to Hustopeče. Greeted by Tomaš Teplý, his wife Andrea, and the winery crew, I quickly grabbed my camera and joined them on their sorting tables. Freshly picked grapes were being driven back from the Kurdějov vineyards, just five minutes from the winery. I was anxious to see the whole process, from start to finish, as this was my first time visiting a winery during harvest.
Things started to move quickly once the truck arrived. Grapes that had been collected in plastic crates were pulled off the van carefully yet efficiently. These crates were strategically arranged on a palette, which had been placed on a forklift.
Now you may ask, why a forklift? Since Vinařství Václav is a gravity fed winery, the harvested grapes are actually processed on the second floor of the facility. This inherent advantage encourages gravity to play a role, permitting the crushed, fermenting juice to move from the top floor to the bottom floor, where it is later matured. This is a highly strategic, innovative approach to winemaking. It allows for a more gentle transfer of wine, from tank to barrel, and minimal intervention in the overall winemaking process.
With the machinery finally turned on, there was a notable excitement permeating the air. All hands were on deck, and the winery crew took their place on the sorting line, ready to pick through the extraneous leaves and unhealthy grapes. This process is extremely vital to the end result, as any unwanted material in the must can have a lasting, negative effect on the end wine.
I admired the speed and attention that was placed upon each cluster. Each team member assumed their responsibilities, cooperating smoothly during the whole process. The excitement and adrenaline running through the room was palpable.
After the first round of processing came to a close, the crates were brought back to the street, hosed off, and reloaded back onto the van for the next harvest run.
I eagerly jumped in the van alongside the winemaker and his crew, to head back to the vineyards where we would meet with rest of the harvest team. After dropping off the freshly cleaned crates, Tomaš, the co-owner of Vinařství Václav, drove me over to the rows of Frankovka and Pinot Noir grapes. It was there that he carefully explained all of the years’ work that was done in the vineyards.
For the first time, Vinařství Václav has done a green harvest of their red grape varietals. This type of ‘pre-harvest,’ trimming unripe (or semi-ripe) grapes off the vine, allows for higher quality and concentration in the fruit left on the vine. By securing these remaining grapes ample access to sunlight and less competition from neighboring clusters, it simultaneously decreases certain potential threats like fungus or mold. The grapes can increase their sugar levels slowly, allowing a steady maturation on the vine, and thus ripening more predictably.
For example, their Pinot Noir allows for just 2 clusters per vine, an extremely small amount considering the potential of a grapevine to produce fruit. Although it can be quite costly, due to factors like additional labor and sheer loss of grapes, green harvesting has the inherent advantage of extraordinary grape quality and concentration.
After spending some time admiring the Pinot Noir and Frankovka grapes still hanging on the vine, we drove back to the winery with roughly 50 filled crates of Riesling grapes, ready for the next processing.
This harvest and processing period continues for weeks, until all of the clusters are depleted from their vineyards. It is painstakingly difficult, labor intensive, and time consuming. Yet winemakers are passionate for their craft, and are constantly trying to achieve greatness. The trials and tribulations of the entire year are intense, and my admiration for the craft is all encompassing. Despite any unexpected challenges either in the vineyard or the cellar, winemakers adapt and overcome countless obstacles. The dedication to tradition and the sheer joy of producing wine, are what inspires me to keep learning.
A special thanks must be given to Vinařství Václav, for letting me document this moment in time of their 2019 harvest. By allowing me to witness the winemaking process from start to finish, I was able to gain a better understanding of the complexities that go into winemaking.
South Moravian winemakers are inventive, hard working and proud of their region and the wines produced. The community is small, yet encourages growth and enterprise. These individuals come together in their communities, while sharing victories and promoting their cities and villages. I am appreciative of the opportunity to document this moment in time for Vinařství Václav.
For me, Civil Wines is a way to create engagement with the wine community and to explore South Moravian wine country. I am anxious to sample the 2019 vintages next year and send all the winemakers of the world my best wishes for their well earned harvest.