Machine vs. Man
There is often a pre-conceived idea that only the best wines can be made from handpicked grapes, but this isn’t necessarily the case.
Some areas such as Champagne or Beaujolais have strict regulations stating that grape bunches must enter the winery whole, therefore the only way to do this is to handpick. The importance of whole bunches for both of these styles of wine is to do with the later stages that occur in the winery itself. In Beaujolais, this is in order to undergo carbonic maceration, for further details on this process visit the ‘winemaking’ section under the heading guides.
There are other situations that also require the grapes to be picked by hand, such as the steep slopes of Mosel, Alsace and the Douro valley. This requirement comes from the fact a machine wouldn’t physically be able to handle the slopes due to the intensity of the gradient in these areas. This, of course, leads to an increase in labour costs which can significantly push the price of the final bottle up.
Handpicking can be very useful when dealing with rot, whether this has been encouraged or not. Nobel rot is an important fungus used in the production of some of the worlds best sweet wines. The same fungus can also cause a detrimental issue known as grey rot, which no winemakers wants! When producing this ‘rotten’ style of sweet wine the best berries have to be carefully hand-picked. The grapes skin is much more delicate and can easily disintegrate. Also, only the best, most intense berries are required to produce the best more complex sweet wine.