Long ago, when there weren’t yet any tractors, the rows on our hills were often narrow and steep and the grapes were collected in baskets made of chestnut wood and carried on our shoulders. To make them, we would cut a new tree that was between 3 and 5 years old, a little bigger than the stakes in the vineyard, boiled it in water, cut the top and pulled by hand a “slice” of wood, following the veins. Then with a carpenter’s tool, they smoothed and finally intertwined the wood.
MARCO ZABALDANO AZIENDA ZABALDANO
Today, the custom of harvesting in crates remains, but they are 22-kilo plastic crates that are open and perforated to allow the grapes to remain aerated and not be crushed under their own weight. They can be transported by two people to the end of the row, if the ground is wet and doesn’t allow the tractor to enter, and can be stacked on the loading bed of the tractor to be brought into the cellar. A loading bed full of red baskets during a harvest in which the work of one year is collected is much more than some cases of grapes – it is the toil, the pride, and character of the vintage, that you can pick up with your own hands.
vincenzo e livio pecchenino AZIENDA VALDIBà
During the harvest, once the crates are full they are placed under the row between one vine and another, in order to leave the path clear for the tractor. If the harvest is scarse you can also collect the crates from three rows by sliding the baskets from one to another by hand. You pass slowly with two people behind the tractor that load the crates onto the trailer, and if the rhythm is right you can do it without stopping the tractor. The loading has to be done carefully because a dip in the road, a steep climb or a sharp turn can cause the trailer to overturn.
GIANFRANCO CARAGLIO AZIENDA CARAGLIO
In the morning, before beginning to harvest, you need to arrive before the grape pickers and disperse the crates among the rows so the workers are never left with out “empties.” It’s crucial to not lose time in the harvest, and the crate to start must always be within reach because the sky can always darken and turn ugly, and the work must be fast. You need to have a good enough eye to know more or less how many to leave per row, and if you have to make an error, it’s always better to have too many. Or maybe it’s better to be lacking, because that means that the year was more abundant than expected?
ANDREA CAUDA AZIENDA CAUDA
Here, we always collect the grapes in pairs, moving along the row such that each of the two, one on one side of the crate and one on the other, is always working. When the one behind has picked everything and no grapes remain, they call out “forward,” and they move along. Working in pairs, there are always stories to tell, laughter, and the crate – contrary to the laws of mathematics – weighs less than half, and the time passes quickly.
FABRIZIO PORRO AZIENDA RIBOTE
If the harvesting couple are husband and wife, then the crate can vary considerably in weight; it can be extremely light or heavy as lead, the conversation can be pleasant, heavy, or non-existent. But usually marriages in the Langhe last, because the work and the common goals cement them strongly together. The harvest is one of those ties.
annamaria e piergiorgio marengo PODERI LA COLLINA
Harvesting with crates requires a lot of space, because it can take four or five hundred crates per day, which, at the end of the harvest, need to be stored. Another system involves using very few crates, even without perforation, and to dump each full crate directly into a container that then brings the grapes to a trailer, or directly to the cellar, if it is close. Being in the cutting edge of equipment in Langa is always a source of pride.
gianluca de maria e daniele cozzo AZIENDA COZZO
Sometimes the grape-picking pairs split up – one needs to go into the cellar, or bring the tractor that collects the crates, go prepare lunch or get a drink. At that point, they form a group of three with another pair and two crates, or else the remaining worker decides to continue solo for a bit. But during the harvest, really working on your own is impossible, even if your partner isn’t always there to help with the picking.
FABRIZIO FABIANI AZIENDA FABIANI
Having the owner in the vineyard during the collecting means that we are still at the beginning of the harvest. As soon as the tanks begin to ferment and the owner needs to follow the pumping-over and the racking, it becomes impossible for him or her to leave the cellar, except to retrieve the crates. But there is nothing like collecting for having clarity around the grapes that you’re bringing home. Reflection, concern, and concentration are gathered into an indefinable state of mind.