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Loire 2013: Before and After

Although I have finished my ‘from the vineyard’ Loire 2013 reports there are a few reflections still to make on my week in the Loire, starting with my visit to Domaine Baudry-Dutour. Here I found them busy picking Cabernet Franc for the 2013 Chinon Rosé, using a machine harvester with on-board optical sorting. Although I’ve seen these machines in action a few times now, I don’t recall seeing one so close-up before, and I certainly haven’t seen one with on-board optical sorting (if the image below looks familiar, it’s because I also included it in my Chinon & Bourgueil post).

Loire 2013: machine picking, before

The process is incredibly efficient, and the machine can be fine-tuned to not only to determine how vigorously the grapes are removed, but the optical sorting can also be adjusted to reject more or fewer of the just-picked fruit. As far as I could see a few leaves were removed as well as grapes, but this also happens during hand-picking, when leaves are often pulled off in order to make easier access to the bunches. Here are some bunches before picking:

Loire 2013: machine picking, before

And here is the same vine after picking; almost all the grapes have been neatly removed from their stems, the vine almost untouched:

Loire 2013: machine picking, after

The rejected grapes are dumped into a tray on the side of the machine which the operator – or rather one of a small team of men running the machine – emptied out at the end of each row. In the image below he is picking through the rejected fruit, ensuring that the optical sorting is appropriately tuned. During the process he conferred with the vineyard proprietor, Jean-Martin Dutour, as to whether or not he would like to adjust the settings in order to reject more/less fruit.

Loire 2013: machine picking, discarded fruit

Below is the accepted fruit, after it has been dumped into a trailer ready to be taken into the winery. The berries were certainly in a much better condition than those rejected, although I was somewhat confused by the presence of a few clearly unripe berries, which optical sorting really should have rejected very easily.

Loire 2013: machine picking, selected fruit

Despite this experience I remain somewhat unconvinced by machine-picking, even though I have tasted a number of machine-picked wines that have been very good. My persistent doubt stems from a correlation (a weak one, admittedly) between machine-picking and lower quality in a handful of Bordeaux grand cru classé estates. I say ‘weak’ as it really relates to just a few negative experiences, and I expect there are many other confounding variables involved. I think, perhaps, I should keep more of an open mind about it, especially looking at the quality of the fruit selected here.

I have some videos of the machine in action but will have to edit them first, difficult at the moment as I am currently ‘taking a break’ exploring the beaches, castles and gardens of Northumberland (a very fine part of the country I must say).

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