The ritual of the harvest is, for Tommasi, a yearly appointment that has various starting dates, from August to October, depending on the wineries and production zones in the group: there are no less than six, in the North, Center, and South of Italy.
That is why, for Tommasi, keeping an eye on the prospects for – and progress of – the harvest means monitoring a large part of the country’s wine production scene, with expectations that are obviously linked to the climatic and technical/production-related events of the vintage.

Each vintage is different from the others, and each producer and every grape variety has its prerogatives.
One has to know how to interpret the vintage, understand the characteristics of the grapes one has to work with, and what kind of wine one will be able to make from them.

Would you ever give up a few weeks’ holiday in midsummer and take a break instead during harvest time? And not to go visiting vineyards, but to go and work in one? I don’t think so. Yet, once upon a time, that’s exactly how things happened.

«The period of the harvest was a festive occasion for the whole village,» says Sergio Tommasi, one of the four brothers in the third generation of the family. «Actually, rather than going away, lots of people came and helped out in the fields. The so-called “portarine” came down from the mountains: their job was to take the baskets full of grapes to the end of the vine rows and transfer them into wooden hoppers. There they were weighed and divided up between the sharecropper and the farmer, before being taken for crushing. Today, on the other hand, it is essentially a full-time job. Indeed, not even members of the family can come if they haven’t a specific task to do»: not like years ago, when eight-year-olds accompanied their grandfather when he went to pick the grapes.

«I remember the excitement of going to see what quantity of grapes had been harvested, so that they could then organize the work in the winery» relates Fabio Mecca Paternoster, great-grandson of Anselmo Paternoster and today in charge of winemaking at Paternoster, the iconic producer in the Vulture zone of Basilicata.

That the harvest is a tradition that dates back to the beginning of time is an undeniable fact, at least for purely logical reasons.
Without a harvest it simply wouldn’t be possible to make wine, and all those long rows of vines would remain with the fruit hanging on them until the following year. What has changed is the way in which harvesting is carried out, not only because of technological developments in machinery, but also for reasons connected with climate change.

«Once upon a time, when I was little, the harvest in Valpolicella Classica took place in October. It was cold in the mornings, and sometimes even during the day we had to light a fire to warm our hands. Some years it even snowed», remembers Giancarlo Tommasi, Tommasi’s chief enologist, with a smile. «It lasted 20-25 days in all: today we begin the harvest in mid-September and keep working for well over a month. Quite apart from the fact that we now own a lot more hectares, and that our estates are in various zones, with different types of grapes: from Pinot Grigio, which we usually begin to harvest at the end of August, followed by Turbiana on Lake Garda for our Le Fornaci Lugana, and finally Corvina, the queen of the Valpolicella varieties».

In the past, the harvest was carried out exclusively by hand, whereas today – for some types of grapes – harvesting is mechanized, with the advantage of picking the more sensitive, delicate cultivars at the right stage of ripeness, thus avoiding overripening, which could subsequently have an adverse effect on operations in the winery. It’s a question of balance, and having faith in the weather.

«The timing of certain operations is fundamental to put into practice what we have worked towards throughout the entire year,» says Emiliano Falsini, the chief enologist at Casisano in Montalcino.«A great vintage is one in which you can pick the grapes when they are perfectly ripe and are therefore able to express their variety and terroir of origin to the full».

It is a question of balance, too, for Fabio Mecca Paternoster, who agrees in maintaining that one has to be able to understand when the precise time is for bringing in the grapes to the winery, and that it is possible to establish it by means of frequent tasting and daily analyses.

It is also true, as Giancarlo Tommasi reminds us, that

«if we don’t start off with excellent agronomic management in the vineyard, it is impossible to produce a great wine: you can’t compensate in the winery for what the vineyard hasn’t given you naturally».