Harvest 2017: granny breasts and relief

All grapes have been harvested at Pietershof. Pinot Noir and Riesling actually could have benefited from a bit more time hanging time, but extensive rain prediction forced earlier harvesting. There was a window of sunshine for a couple of days at the end of September and the beginning of October, so the usual suspects were gathered to help out.

Picking grapes in a group always creates a great sense of unity and satisfaction, certainly helped by plenty of sun and a lovely lunch, including Pietershof wine.

Harvesting is not just a matter of cutting bunches. Want to know more about the phenomenon called granny breasts and what happens when all the pickers are gone?

This year grape bunches at Pietershof suffered from berry shrivel, aka granny breasts. These grapes are shrivelled, soft and taste sour and bitter. The jury is still out on what exactly is the cause of this but it seems that unbalanced soil nutrients like potassium and magnesium are to blame.


Every bunch with shrivelled berries had to cut and thrown away to avoid green and bitter aromas ending up in the final juice.

All healthy picked bunches were collected in crates and transported to the winery. Here, the grapes were put into a large plastic container and covered with enough sulfite, to minimise oxygen impact. The grape bunches stayed overnight in the container before the actual pressing the next day.

Chardonnay grapes into press

After a night of rest, each container was emptied in a large steel tray, connected to the grape press. The best juice, called free-run juice is pressed automatically through gravity. This is the highest quality juice.

Chardonnay free-run juice

The free-run juice was pumped into steel containers and the remainder of the grapes was pressed and also pumped over. One of the measurements at this stage is the assessment of the potential alcohol percentage of the finished wine, expressed in Oechsle. This is basically the difference between the density of grape must and water and is due to the dissolved sugar which is converted into alcohol during fermentation.

Grape must is put into a small glass container and a densimeter is put in until it floats freely. The point at which the surface of the liquid touches the stem of the hydrometer reads out a specific Oechsle value. With the help of a special conversion table you can read out the corresponding potential alcohol% of the finished wine. In the picture the Oechsle value was 80, corresponding to 12,3% alcohol.

“2017 was great for making the style of wines Pietershof prefers”

Overall winemaker Albert was very reliefed with the quality of the grapes and must. It hasn’t been an easy year with the early spring frost (click here for details) and unlike 2016, there were quite a bit of rainy days August and September.

In 2016 a long summer produced very ripe grapes. This year, with grapes slighly less ripe but countered by lovely acidity, the wines from Pietershof will stay more in tune with the style they prefer: pure, mineral wines that beautifully express the geographical edge of the winemaking world.

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