Les 5 du Vin

5 journalistes parlent du vin

Harvesting: hand or by machine?

11 Commentaires


Young pickers@Alphonse Mellot, Sancerre


New trail picking machine using optical sorting technology on trial@Baudry-Dutour (Chinon)



It has long been a given that harvesting by hand, assuming that you have a suitably talented team of pickers, is better than by machine. Amongst ‘natural’ winemakers this remains an article of faith.

However, having seen a trial picking machine with optical sorting in action on Friday in Chinon and having ridden another advanced machine a couple of years ago in Anjou I have to wonder whether there really is still such an advantage to hand picking.

There is, of course, no doubt that you want to harvest with at least a couple of sweeps through the vines it has to be hand picked. This is particularly true of sweet wines. It was an aberration that picking machine were once allowed in the Coteaux du Layon. Thankfully that loop-hole has been closed for some time. It is also probably true if you want to make top quality dry Chenin Blanc, which has such degrees of ripeness within the same bunch.

But is it true of a more regularly ripening variety like Sauvignon Blanc? Last week in Sancerre a couple of domaines, who are fully committed to hand picking and carry out severe selection procedures in the vineyard and then in the winery, wondered how producers who machine pick are coping with the difficult conditions in 2013.

The answer I suggest lies in how sophisticated a machine they have. A ultra-modern machine, if it is really able to sort grapes properly rejecting rotten ones etc., offers considerable advantages in a vintage like 2013. Harvesting is much faster and you can start earlier and pick later, although too much rain will mean that your machine can’t get into the vineyard without sinking into the mud.


Sample of the grapes rejected by the machine. The severity of grape selection can be adjusted


Grapes picked and selected by the machine – a few green berries but also many grapes still intact. These grapes were destined for rosé.

Furthermore you avoid the level of French bureaucracy involved in hiring pickers. Jean-Marie Bourgeois (Domaine Henri Bourgeois, Sancerre etc.) told us that it takes three and a half hours just to hire one picker – 90 minutes to fill in the forms and then a further two hours to process the application. I hope this is a slight exaggeration! Should the now hired picker prove to be totally useless they have to be given a week’s notice.

With a machine you should also avoid, or at least have a great albi, when the police arrive to check that all of your pickers are properly registered and aren’t illegal immigrants. We saw a convoy around six police cars around Les Loges (Pouilly-Fumé) last Thursday morning checking ‘vos papiers’!


Auteur : Les 5 du Vin

Journalistes en vin

11 réflexions sur “Harvesting: hand or by machine?

  1. Optical sorting and mechanical harvest are two different questions. Harvesting machine manufacturers are trying to hide some of the drawbacks of their mechanical system by integrating optical sorting in it.
    But if one like to avoid sending a big machine damping the ground and emitting diesel fumes in your vineyard, shaking the vines and killing insects, one still can have optical sorting at the « table de tri ».


  2. I agree totally with your arguments towards the machine, specially when the hand pickers available are beginners, and when the weather is at its worse. But I insist : one should make rosé wines only with top quality grapes.


  3. Good article Jim. There are other good reasons for using machines to harvest, at which you hinted but are worth developing further. When storms threaten, for example, you can send out the machine to work all night and save the crop. And they can also work at night, early in the mornig, to preserve freshness in grapes, especially white ones, in warm climates. People don’t realise that abour 70% of all French wines have been machine harvested and, if well driven and of the latest (and sorting) sort, will genreally do at least if not better a job than all but the very best pickers. Of course some land is too steep, or the ground too soft, and some kinds of wine not suitable. But, as you say, the ridiculously heavy French administrtaion is enough to encourage the use of machines anyway. Of course, to answer Denis, more diesel fumes are not a good thing, but then you have them anyway from the tractors that collect the grapes at the end of the rows, and do all those who pick by hand cultivate their vines by hand or by horse? Let’s forget the hypocusy and face the facts. It is getting harder for producers to find and to hire good pickers, who often let them down in the middle of harvest. Machines can be a good solution.


  4. Thanks for your comments. I remain agnostic on this question. Yes there is the weight of the machine and diesel fumes of the picking machine and the tractor and trailor collecting the grapes. This has to be balanced by the fleets of white vans used to transport the pickers from chai to vineyard along with the tractor and trailor again collecting the grapes. This year with conditions deteriorating quickly the speed of picking is an important consideration.

    Michel. I agree that good quality grapes should be used for rosé but they may well not need to be quite so ripe as those destined for red wine. The two styles require different levels of ripeness and acidity. A handful of green grapes in a trailor load will make no difference and might well also be missed by hand sorting.


  5. Yes Jim, its a question of horses for courses once again. And the « balance carbone » issue is far more complex than some of the ecolos make out.


  6. Salut David,

    To have 40 people harvesting in a property it meens about 20 cars driving each for 40 to 50 kms for the transportation of this people and this during 3 days, comparing to 10 hours of a machine. I’m not sure that the balance is in the hand picking favor.

    I don’t have any judgement between hand or machine, it’s just to say, as you David, that the balance carbone is very complex


  7. Salut Vincent et merci pour ton commentaire qui confirme bien qu’il faut tout calculer dans ce genre d’approche.


  8. Video killed the radio star. Harvesting machine soon will kill fine wine. But that’s what many people are out to anyway. Hidden agenda, that is.


    • Luc. I’m sure hand harvesting will continue for the finest wines, for small quality orientated domaines as well as quality sparkling wines, Beaujolais and serious sweet wines. It is not unusual for domaines to do both – Luneau-Papin for instance. It isn’t possible for all wine grapes to be picked by hand, so it is surely welcome that the machines continue to improve. Jim


  9. I’m proud to see our machine on your blog. I work for New Holland at engineering department so my point of view will be not very objective. This machine isn’t an optical sorting table but it’s an air cushion which blows everything different than a round shape. There are only few units in France this year, you’re lucky to see this one ! Thanks for your comments.Vincent R.


  10. Vincent. Many thanks for your comment and for explaining the sorting system. Jim


Laisser un commentaire

Entrez vos coordonnées ci-dessous ou cliquez sur une icône pour vous connecter:

Logo WordPress.com

Vous commentez à l'aide de votre compte WordPress.com. Déconnexion /  Changer )

Photo Google+

Vous commentez à l'aide de votre compte Google+. Déconnexion /  Changer )

Image Twitter

Vous commentez à l'aide de votre compte Twitter. Déconnexion /  Changer )

Photo Facebook

Vous commentez à l'aide de votre compte Facebook. Déconnexion /  Changer )


Connexion à %s