To harvest by hand or by machine?
There are two main methods of harvesting grapes. There are also very divergent views of what is better. Harvesting by hand basically involves cutting the bunches off the vine with a pair of scissors. This is hard backbreaking work in the sun. Machine harvesting involves a huge machine straddling the row of vines, shaking each vine and collecting the falling berries.
In our region we get both forms of harvesting. Interestingly from a cost perspective they are fairly similar. Labour costs in South Africa are not particularly high so we can make the choice between the two forms. In certain countries like the US, or France, a machine is definitely the cost effective method, except for when then slopes are too steep for a machine harvester.
Hand harvesting allows a vintner to select only the best grapes from the vine. This is definitely helpful in a year when the grapes are not all healthy. The benefit of a machine being that you can harvest at night, when the grapes are cool and crisp. A machine can also harvest 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Except when it breaks, which they often seem to do.
The main reason why we harvest only by hand at Excelsior is an ethical one. SA has an unemployment rate that is officially 24%, but unofficially 40%. Many people have actually given up looking for work, so do not get counted. Picking by hand provides work. One machine takes the place of approximately 60 people, so the choice to us is obvious.