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The moment of truth

There is a time of the year in every vineyard when a great deal of effort, knowledge, skill, and some of the hardest physical work comes into play. This is harvest time.

Grape harvest at Son Campaner, Mallorca

It is a very serious moment and a stage in which any bad decision can lead to a disastrous result. If you pick too early or too late, press the grapes now or later, ferment the ‘most’ this way or the other way, these are all incredibly important decisions that will affect the outcome. It’s not like a batch of gin or beer that you can throw away and start again from scratch. There is only one chance and if you mess up with one single aspect you can lose a whole year's work.

My first experience with a harvest was when I was about 7 years old. My father took the whole family to help out in a vineyard belonging to a friend. I was too little to do most of the hard work in the vines, so I was taken to stomp the grapes instead. This was partly a game but also quite hard work. I spent the day marching on those grapes until they were ready to be taken away for fermentation. After the harvest, we all sat down for a massive lunch together sharing in the camaraderie.  Happy days and fond memories!!

Kids stomping on red grapes

This August, more than 30 years later, I was invited to help in two different vineyards.

The first one was at SON CAMPANER

It was a very early start for me, particularly after a late-night working. I was instructed to meet at 7 am at their modern installations near Sencelles.

Son Campaner, Mallorca

I met with Julia, the winemaker.  Julia acquired her winemaking university degree in Berlin, whilst also working as a waitress in her spare time to pay for her studies. She gave us a few simple rules and tips when looking out for the bad grapes and bunches that might be rotten inside or may have been attacked by insects. I took my scissors and my bucket and started looking for the ripe grapes, making sure I didn’t leave a good bunch behind.  

Picking syrah grapes at Son Campaner, Mallorca

On this particular day, we were picking Syrah, a grape variety that due to its thin skin gets attacked by all kinds of insects. Among the healthy bunches, some aren’t very impressive, so it is important to have a good eye and quick judgment to decide whether to save a bunch or return it to the soil as fertilizer. 

Once my bucket was full I took it to the end of the row and emptied it into a larger container, then I returned to the vines to pick some more. As soon as the large container was full it was taken back to the main building where the grapes were left to cool down in a fresh place, in readiness for the pressing process.  

The final stage would then be pumping the ‘most’ into the stainless steel tanks for fermentation. 

Son Campaner is a medium-sized vineyard with specific systems in place, a good work ethic, and a positive environment to work in.

My following harvest experience was very different.  

Carlos from SELVA VINS invited me to help out with their harvest.  

Carlos is a genuine artisan of wine in Mallorca. He has been involved in winemaking most of his life. He knows every detail of the Mallorcan varieties and he is involved in recuperation programmes for some of the lesser-known grapes. He makes all of his wines with minimum intervention and the care and respect he has for the indigenous grapes are very hard to find nowadays. His wines are a reflection of what the soil gives and he only adds a low amount of sulphites to them. 

Selva Vins grapevines in Estellencs, Mallorca

Carlos is dedicated to looking after a small plot of land in Estellencs that has Malvasia grapes. This particular vineyard is nestled in a small valley within the mountain range of the Tramuntana. It is a picturesque area that benefits from a gentle sea breeze, some altitude, and a breath-taking surrounding landscape. Because of these aspects, Carlos treasures every last bottle of Malva he produces and it is his favourite amongst his wide range of ‘natural’ wines.

I was invited along with a small group of family and friends.  The atmosphere was very relaxed as we started working, chatting, eating grapes, stopping for an ensaimada break, and admiring the surroundings, whilst some nearby sheep looked on with bemusement.  

We very quickly picked all of the grapes and loaded them onto a trailer to be taken back to Selva where the healthy ones were selected bunch by bunch and sometimes grape by grape before the fermentation process began.  This laborious procedure, along with the low production of only about 500 bottles a year makes Malva a very desired wine in Mallorca.  It is a wine that will improve every year and its creator also believes it will age well if put down for some 4 to 5 years.

Harvesting is hard work as the sun hits you throughout the morning and your back is bent for the majority of the time.  But after the harvest, you are rewarded with a glass of wine whilst you chat about wine in general, winemaking, and ‘putting the world to rights’.   

I recommend this experience to anyone that has the time to help out during the harvest season.

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