Harvest is the summit of the viticultural year. It is a serious and joyful occasion. I try to be around when it happens to see the quality of grapes that are going into the pot. In September I called on Christian and Edouard Moueix at work in Pomerol because I wanted to see their new toy in action (the tri optique or optical sorting machine). This is the second harvest in which they have used the system after studying different possibilities and refinements. Optical sorting does not replace work done in the vineyard, thinning and cleaning the crop, or make redundant the sorting tables designed to remove the bits of dry leaf and stalk and poor quality grapes, but it carries the process one step further. The berries now fall on to a short escalator, moving at 90 kilometres an hour so they don’t bounce, where they are filmed by a camera which identifies by shape any remaining stalk, unformed or other berries so that they may be blown aside by a jet of air. The grapes that reach the fermentor are all subsequently ripe and perfectly formed. The Moueixs are delighted with the results, as is Henri Lurton at Brane Cantenac who uses a slightly different version of the same technique.
This technology has been used by the frozen pea producers for several years and also, in a different form, to sort out our rubbish in recycling centres. Only recently has it been perfected for grapes.
At Moueix pickers work hard all day, but they are well-fed at lunch and party every night. It was cards the night I was there, bingo the next night and fancy dress the night after that with Christian almost certainly leading the dancing on the tables.Sebastian Payne MWChief Wine Buyer