Harvesting grapes

Many factors affect wine prices. Barrel cost and berry quality.Parker scores. Marketing mavens. Winery hubris. Take your pick.

Actually, picking price is one of the more important elements when a winery picks price.

Mechanical: harvester rumbles down vineyard row, mindlessly gathering every grape berry it shakes or slaps loose.

Hand picking: humans make decisions about which clusters, even which individual berries, are ready to pick.

A mechanical harvester using a crew of five to harvest around the clock harvests 80-to-200 tons in a 24-hour period (depends on vine yield). Cost: $65 to $85 a ton.

Four human harvesters pick one or two acres of grapes a day. Cost: $125 to $150 a ton.

Put one way, machine in one hour harvests as many grapes as 10 humans harvest in one day. Put another way, in one day a machine can harvest grapes to make 40,000 to 80,000 bottles of wine while a human crew harvests grapes for about 4,000 bottles.

Surprise: more and more vineyards embraced machine harvesting after technology first appeared in the 1960s.

Different story when it comes to premium grapes such as those on steep slopes in Germany and Austria where mechanical harvesting is impossible and individual decision making vital.

For German/Austrian Beerenauslese, it takes one person up to one day to harvest enough berries for a single bottle of the wine.

For Trockenbeerenauslese, it can take a harvester two days to pick enough perfect berries to make a bottle of the rare wine.

You pay for the difference. You taste it, too.


• Deen De Bortoli Vat 4 Petit Verdot 2006. Inky purple; layers of dark fruit, plum, mocha, toasty oak; tart tannins, fine finish; value. $13

• Selvapiana Chianti Rufina Riserva Bucerchiale 2006. Earthy nose; intense black cherry, dark chocolate, spice; silk tannin; decant. $33

• Kaisergarten Beerenauslese Neusiedlersee Seewinkler Impressionen 2002. Sweet honey galore; subtle, delicious, did we mention sweet? Austria. 375 mL $24