It’s harvest time – 9 wines in 6 steps

It happens at a similar time in similar ways every year, or so you might think. The truth is there are as many methods and ideas as winemakers, and sometimes even a certain amount of eccentricity is attached to the harvest. Now, concentrating on these, we’re going to look at the most important steps of the harvest, introducing nine such exciting wines, whereby the making of which saw certain steps of the harvest activities differ a bit (or a lot) from the usual ways.

1. 1. Preparations

 

Tokaj Nobilis Kövérszőlő 2016 (sweet) Tokaj

“Every August we put a net around the bunches”

 

“Although we usually harvest the Kövérszőlő (lit. fat grape) at the end of October, preparations for the harvest start in August. That’s when we carry out the first and the most important step, so that we can have a Kövérszőlő harvest at all. The song birds from the forest start pilfering the bunches, and there was a year when all they left were five clusters all together. Since then, we’ve put a net around the bunches to protect them from the birds and it remains on them until the end of October harvest when the botrytised aszú berries appear on the clusters. Following the harvest, we only destem the berries, we don’t crush or break them; this way the grape aromas are likely to remain better and they don’t oxidise. After destemming, we soak the aszú berries over one night.” Sarolta Bárdos

 

 

Csite Norbert Toplec-dűlői Furmint 2015 Tokaj
“We came up with it to put our minds at rest”

 

Norbert and his team harvest a bit even before the harvest. About a week before the planned harvest date, they pick the inoculum material with a couple of buckets, they press it and ferment it in glass carboys. “To some extent it was out of necessity. We came up with it to put our minds at rest. As we don’t live in Tokaj but commute between places, it happens that we are not there for a couple of days. That’s how we can ensure that at the time of the harvest a fresh culture meets with the raw must. In about a week’s time, while the main harvest takes place, fermentation happens as well and we inoculate the raw must with it. I don’t really know about anyone who does it the same way, and I’m not certain whether I read about it somewhere or it just sprang to my mind but it works for us. It gives us security and it helps to make the procedure more natural. A natural approach is really important for us and that’s why, for example, at the time of the last spraying before the harvest, we spray with a tea brewed from herbs that consists of horsetail, camomile, oak bark and nettle picked by myself.”

 

 

2. The harvest

 

Györgykovács Nagy-Somlói Furmint 2015
“It’s morning by the time everything is done”

 

The two-member winery of Imre Györgykovács and Gyöngyi, his wife, only takes on some help during the harvest and even then, they basically do everything by themselves. “We start early, but when it’s already light. In October, when we pick the Furmint, we start at around eight in the morning and we finish by 11 at the latest. My wife and two women helpers pick the grapes but I’m also there, we look at the berries together and select them on the vine. I always tell them they should rather pick them slowly but nicely… In the meantime, I keep transporting the grapes to the winery. I return immediately so that that the grapes avoid being hit by the sun, because we cannot cool the must. We fill 50 cases of about 750kg of grapes in one day. The Furmint harvest on 0.2 hectares lasts for two days and we make 1,100 litres of wine out of that. Earlier we used to work for two days, 48 hours without a break during this time. Now that we are older, we squeeze in a day break in between. First, we destem the picked grapes, then we macerate them during lunch and start pressing afterwards. We made a small acid-resistant steel press, into which we pour the berries from above… it’s a slow process that cannot be sped up, it might take as long as till midnight. When it’s finished I take the grape marc outside, loosen the press and the marc goes back into it, we press it again [quickly, within 15 minutes after each other to avoid oxidisation]. In the meantime, we have to wash the cases, the equipment and the press as well. Usually, my wife does it at some point around dawn… it’s morning by the time everything is finished. We settle the must and we take it down to the cellar before lunch. We start it all over again a day later…”

 

3. Destemming, berry selection and crushing (if there is)

 

Sauska Cuvée 13 2016 Villány
“It works with a green box technique known in filmmaking”

 

“We sort in several ways, we pick the grapes from each vineyard, ferment and age them separately, because everything starts as a Cuvée 7… There is hand selection as well, and we already sort during harvesting. We also look after the grapes packed in the cases during transportation. We have a very gentle destemming machine and after that, the berries are put into the optical sorter and 90% of the grapes go through it. Not so many of these optical sorters can be found in the country, maybe two or three, but I heard several people plan on buying one. One should imagine a larger car-sized machine which is basically a green conveyor belt with two lines of lamps above it. It works with the greenbox technique known in filmmaking, the machine can be adjusted according to what it should sort out by size, shape and colour. This is detected by a computer and with the help of a muzzle, it blows out the leaves, stalk pieces, the unripe or over-shrivelled, not sufficiently round grapes that got into it. It processes six tonnes in half an hour, it substitutes the work of 18 people. For us, it’s not the most important for its precision but because in our expanding winery, during the time of harvest, there are not enough helping hands…” Balázs Hága, winemaker

 

 

4. Skin contact

 

Villa Tolnay Zöldveltelini FÖLD 2016
“Such flavour notes emerge that are unknown for the variety”

 

“We are foolish enough to start the harvest as early as five in the morning, often still in the dark, doing it with lamps, just to keep the grapes cool. These completely healthy, cold grapes (already destemmed) are put into the tanks, right after the harvest in the morning hours. There we cool them down to 2-4 degrees…” It is kept on the skins for 96 hours at this temperature, with the cold halting the start of fermentation. Only after this, it is put into the press. After pressing, it starts fermenting in two oval Stockinger barrels. “We substitute mash fermentation with this 96-hour, exactly 4-day long period of skin contact. Earlier it was given skin contact for 18 to 36 hours. It results in the forming of such a blend of tannins and aromas, the emerging of such flavour notes that are unknown for the variety. That’s how our FÖLD (lit. earth) Zöldveltelini (Grüner Veltliner) became a serious, substantial, yet pure and easy to understand wine.” László Nagy, estate manager

 

 

5. Pressing

 

Bott Frigyes Pinot Noir 2016
“It is also closer to my heart” – part treading by foot, part returned stalks

 

“In the 2016 Pinot Noir, there was fermentation with 30-40% stalks and stems, the rest was trod by foot… I don’t press the red wine at all, treading is the gentlest way of breaking the berries and it is also closer to my heart. It’s more natural than the best destemming machine – and it gives extra structure and complexity to the wine. What is always a question is what percentage we should destem and what percentage we should tread. This is the third year we’ve been experimenting with the proportions of these. A lot depends on the quantity, proportions, we are learning it now, but the most important thing is that the berries should be broken gently. We tread them in smaller vats for 15-20 minutes, last year we processed the whole lot in one day. This October, we might change this and also alter the proportions, we might not even put the stems back… These two methods are not unknown anywhere else, I saw such treading in Portugal and Austria, and in Burgundy, they use the returned stems for Grand Cru wines, only it’s a secret in what proportion.”

 

 

Losonci Bálint Nyitnikék 2016
“I do have a press machine but I haven’t even switched it on yet”

 

Bálint does the bunch sorting himself before the harvest, still in the vineyard, and chewing the seeds is one of the most important indicators – if he doesn’t feel that the tannin concentration and the flavours are ideal in the seeds, no matter if the must sugar and the PH-scale is alright, then there is no harvest. After the harvest, comes the hand press. “It’s mainly a spiritual reason why we work with a small basket press… I do have a press machine but I haven’t even switched it on yet. Somehow it’s rough-and-ready and less transparent for me, while here I can see it and taste immediately what comes out of the press. Knowing that I can exert control over every move, I can loosen the press or tighten it, I feel that I have a lot more direct relationship with the grapes. It’s a bit like philosophy, just like the use of wild yeast. They are like when you compare leaven-made bread with a yeasty one. Or like a retouched picture compared to a photo in which you can see the faults, but the end result is more natural and exciting. These things give new dimensions to the wines that can be detected when tasting them,” says Bálint

 


Kaláka Bátori Cuvée 2016 Tokaj
“It’s exactly right for our measurements and intermittent harvests”

 

There’s more than one peculiarity in the harvesting methods of the small Tokaj cellar; one is that they use an ancient, more than 150-year-old Kossuth press. In fact, they have two of them, which they bought from old cellars, restored and got working. “I could say that our use of energy is really favourable, which is in fact true as we don’t use anything. But that’s not the reason we use them, but rather because they press beautifully. Only, they do it slowly… Altogether we press them once, we press the clusters without skin contact and destemming… It’s exactly right for our measurements and intermittent harvests. The only problem with them is that we have to wash them constantly. Of course, if we grow bigger, we shall start considering another solution,” says Lászlo Alkonyi. The other thing that is unique is that they harvest in several batches, every week, and they ferment the pressed grapes ‘piled up’ on top of each other. Every four to five days, they pour the freshly harvested grapes on top of the already fermenting ones, so that every yeast strain should ferment and those that are fermenting already should be given fresh must.

 



6. Fermentation

 

Illyés Kúria Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 Szekszárd
“It’s a several-century old method but there aren’t many people doing it”

 

It’s not by accident that winemaker Dr Miklós Illyés’ ‘civil’ profession is medical scientist; he chose his fermentation method in a way that the concentration of healthy antioxidants should be high in the wine. “We keep the grapes on the vine as long as possible, we don’t mind shrivelling. Following destemming and the breaking of the skins, the grapes are put into a 100-litre vat. The primary fermentation happens there, in the meantime we punch down which is a way of maceration. When the cap of grape skins comes up to the top of the vat, you have break through every square inch of the large surface area with a paddle, five to six times a day. Accordingly, the antioxidant, the resveratrol, the flavonoids in the grape seeds and skin come out better. During the last two days, we stop punching down, then we seal the wine air-tight. Here in Szekszárd they used to cover it with grape leaves and put mud on top in order to protect it from oxygen. I cover it with plastic foil and pour sand on top of it. We leave it like this for four to five weeks. Then, without pressing, the free-run juice goes into the barrel at once. It’s a several-century old method but apart from me there aren’t many people here who are doing it. It’s really elaborate and hard physical work. But the wine has a lot nicer colour this way, and a huge advantage is that it will be full of healthy compounds,” says Dr Miklós Illyés.