I experienced a fun-packed grape harvest in Bordeaux, Southwest France, at family-run vineyard Chateau Haut-Pradot. The rain (this was the very rainy 2021 harvest) didn’t dampen the enthusiasm and friendliness of the participants.
As well as getting the chance to participate in all aspects of the harvest - picking, de-stemming and treading the grapes, you feel part of a wonderful village event, with families of all ages, many who clearly attended every year.
Chateau Haut Pradot
Chateau Haut-Pradot is a small winery in Gironde run by fifth generation winemaker Benoit and his wife Eloise. They are a dynamic couple transforming the vines and wines whilst not losing sight of the traditions of this historic wine region.
Benoit is taking the vines back to the organic roots of his grandfather. He has also planted new white and black, disease resistant grape varieties to help the winery face the challenges of climate change.
Getting the harvest started
After a welcome drink, harvesting began with an effort at rain-proofing which caused much laughter. Eloise gaffer-taped a cute child’s umbrella onto the head of a willing volunteer.
Although, since he appeared to have come in a deep-sea fisherman’s outfit, he seemed the least in need of additional protection. But it got us all off to a jolly start as we braved the rain and headed to the vines.
Picking the grapes
It was a short walk to the vines, where secateurs were provided for those who hadn’t brought their own, and crates were handed round.
Then it was off to the rows of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, the two grapes which would make up our final wine.
With secateurs in hand, we started work. Placing the bunches of grapes into our plastic crates they filled up surprisingly quickly.
It was easier than my previous experience of hand harvesting. That had been in England and the grapes had been trained closer to the ground which was harder on my back. These Bordeaux grapes seemed to be grown with my height in mind.
Once the crates were full, they were taken off to the winery by tractor. Once we had had our fill of picking, we headed into the winery to participate in the next stage of wine making.
One of the best things about this event was the opportunity to participate in all aspects of the harvest. After a busy time picking grapes, with our latest full crate, we found a hive of industry in the winery.
Machine harvesting vs hand harvesting
Machine harvested grapes are shaken off the vines, with stems left on the vines and only grapes being taken to the winery. However, our hand harvested grapes were whole bunches. As we only wanted the grapes, we had to remove the grapes from the stems, a process known as de-stemming.
The de-stemming equipment proved to be quite rudimentary.
We rubbed the bunches gently over a row of metal grids (like oven cooker racks), so the grapes dropped into white buckets below, leaving us with the stems in our hands which we threw into another bucket.
De-stemming proved to be a relaxing process. Rubbing the bunches of grapes over the simple metal grid, grapes dropping into the buckets below, lots of chat around us. Even though we were still very wet from our grape picking, I think this was my favourite part.
Treading the grapes
Once enough grapes had collected in our buckets, they were taken over to the grape-treading area.
Not surprisingly this activity proved popular with the children. People’s feet are ideal for treading grapes. Enough pressure to crush the grapes but not enough to break the pips. The pips contain harsh flavours which are not a good addition to any wine.
This is a very traditional process. Portugal is probably the only place where it is still practiced to any extent (for Port), although even there, mechanical processes are replacing people. However, Benoit and Elodie keep things very traditional for this event.
It is a bit strange to take your shoes and socks off and stand in a bucket of grapes. Cold, wet, and squishy, it took a surprising amount of treading to get the grapes to the appropriate level of mushiness to meet Benoit’s approval.
The wine we were making is Haut-Pradot’s Cuvée Prestige de l’Amitié which is a traditional style of Bordeaux red wine. Traditional Bordeaux reds are made for enjoying with food.
Fermented and aged in new French oak barrels to add complexity, and smooth out the tannins which are astringent when the wine is young.
Haut-Pradot’s Cuvée Prestige de l’Amitié is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot fermented and aged for a year in a large (500l) new French oak barrel. It is then bottled and aged for a further year in bottle before it is released for sale.
Haut-Pradot’s Cuvée Prestige de l’Amitié 2021
The ageing process means that our 2021 vintage wine will not be available to buy until late 2023. I did get the chance to sample it after a year when I visited the winery this summer.
Benoit was bottling the wine at the end of the week we visited, and he gave me a sample straight from the barrel. As expected, it had astringent tannins, and the oak flavours had not yet integrated with the fruit flavours.
Cuvée Prestige de l’Amitie is made to be aged for 10 years, with tannins getting smoother and flavours more complex with time.
What will the 2021 vintage taste like?
Chateau Haut-Pradot’s Cuvée Prestige de l’Amitie is their flagship wine. You can read our tasting note on their 2019 vintage here. [link]
2019 was a hot sunny summer and the resulting wine, even after only 3 years ageing is a great wine, with silky tannins and rich complex flavours.
2021 was a very different year. Early frosts and rains during flowering meant many grapes never formed. Continued rain during the summer increased disease pressures and meant that fruit intensity and sugar levels were lower, and tannins less developed.
This means that the 2021 wine will have an alcohol level of around 12%, compared to the 14% achieved in 2019.
This is where the expertise of the winemaker comes into its own. The ability to make great wine even if tough years is an art. I can’t wait to see how our wine develops.
Your name on your label
The 2021 vintage will have the first names of all the participants in the harvest on the label. I can’t wait to hold a bottle in my hand, a bottle with my name on it.
Winery tour including exploring machine harvester
Things didn’t stop with making our wine. Elodie gave a tour of the winery, explaining all the processes and offering the chance to taste partly fermented white wine and newly juiced red.
Then, for those brave enough, there was a rainy explanation of the grape harvesting machine. Much quicker than any human, it is what they use for all their other wines.
Having seen these machines in the vines from a distance it was fascinating to see one up close. And even get the chance to climb on top, they feel as high as they look!
Lunch - and finally some wine!
The morning finished with everyone heading to the marque in the garden to enjoy a shared lunch.
With the request to bring a dish, it was a varied mix of foods. This included a basket of oysters provided by Elodie and Benoit, along with all the wine.
This included an imperial bottle of their deliciously smooth 2014 fruity red. An imperial bottle is equivalent to 8 standard bottles, pouring wine from such a large bottle was almost an event in itself.
It is worth mentioning that it helps if you speak at least a little French as French is the dominant language. Benoit speaks a bit of English, and we met one couple who spoke English well.
Facts and figures
Cost: €12 per person, under 18-year-olds go for free
Lunch: You are asked to bring a dish to share. Benoit and Eloise provide the wine.
Location: 3 Patatin, 33190 Morizes, Gironde
Google map: here
Book: via Chateau Haut-Pradot website
When: usually around the first Sunday in October, specific date announced each year via their website and Facebook page.
This is a great way to participate in a grape harvest. Fun and sociable, no prior wine knowledge is required. There are an increasing number of vineyards where you can get involved in harvesting. They are a good way to get some fresh air and meet new people.
Compared to other harvest events, I think Chateau Haut Pradot’s grape harvest experience provides some unique benefits which makes it a particularly great experience.
What makes Chateau Haut Pradot's grape harvest experience different
- You are only harvesting for half a day - picking grapes for a full day can be tough on your back
- You participate in all aspects of the harvest, picking, de-stemming and treading the grapes - more interesting, and you can switch activities when you want
- You are part of a village event - sociable and an insight into French life
- Shared lunch, wine included
- You get your name on the wine!!
- You are making a wine that will age for 10 years - many years of enjoyment