Machine Harvesting - and the impact on grapes and the quality of the finished wine is not something that everyone can agree on. But since their commercial introduction to viticulture in the 1960's, their impact have been on an impressive scale.
The machine harvesters of today, are far removed from early examples - greatly improved impact on the individual berries and control, able to be programmed to accommodate most winemaker's preferences. They can be more easily adjusted and pick grapes just as clean as any hand, not to mention harvesting a large area in much less time. It also works out cheaper per hectare to use harvesters over pickers. Winemakers argue that 'specific' styles and quality wines require careful treatment, sticking with the discerning, gentle hand picker.


For many vineyards, a dwindling labour force has been a key reason for turning to machine harvesters. But for others, whom craft specific, more delicate wines from particular grapes (e.g. Champagne and Dessert wine styles) - there is no opportunity to do selective harvesting, or instruct the machine to leave the second crop, or skip bunches with rot and mold.
Machine harvesting substantially brings down the cost of getting the grapes from the vineyard into the winery. The exact saving depends on a number of factors, but approx 60% savings are an average result. However, does this practice lower the quality of the grapes and the finished wine? The ill-informed purist would say yes (as most of the great old vineyards of the world are harvested by hand), but the evidence suggests otherwise.
True - it must be stated: that machine harvested fruit is 'not' suitable for the production of all styles of wine. For example, some winemakers produce fine delicate Chardonnay wines by gently squeezing whole bunches, and using certain types of presses. Their aim is to minimise the degree of phenolic pickup in the juice as much as possible. Obviously this rules out machine harvesting as the majority of machine harvested fruit comes in as individual and partly juiced grapes. This also rules out Late Harvest or Botrytis grapes which are simply to fragile to be machine harvested.
So either machine harvesting or the good old traditional hand-picking, the on-going battle between man and machine has made its way into the wonderful world of wine.