Embrace the Magic of Harvest Time in Bordeaux

Budding winemaker and Hong Kong celebrity Bernice Liu gives us a peek into her winemaking journal.

When you first think of winemaking, images that pop into your head might be harvesters amongst rows of vines with baskets on their backs and grape shears in hand, or those big optical sorting machines where you see de-stemmed grapes shooting out like BB gun pellets by the thousands down into a container.

Through my wine journey of 10 years, which is still relatively short in wine years, I’ve been blessed to have been able to see and experience many aspects of wine and winemaking. Every time I go, it never ceases to amaze me that I find myself falling in love with the process and managing to learn something new.

For me, harvest in Bordeaux is like my annual winemaking getaway. I try to go to Bordeaux three or four times a year, with one of the trips being around harvest time.

In order for me to get the full experience, I try to change it up and go to early harvest of one year, then late harvest of the next year. Honestly, I think no matter how many times I go to Bordeaux, I will never learn everything there is to know about wine and that keeps me looking forward to each wine experience.

Now let’s talk about harvest and my typical harvest days. The misty mornings of Bordeaux in September and early October start around 4am with my cup or two of coffee before heading out. Thibault Despagne (my French brother from another mother and father) and I would get into his car and pick up breakfast for everyone down at the vineyards.

If I get there during the start of harvest, then it is the fruitful collection of white grapes for my Bellavizio Bordeaux Blanc, which is a classic blend of semillon and sauvignon blanc grapes. If I make it to the later part of harvest, then it is the harvesting of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc grapes for my Bellavizio Bordeaux Rouge. In general, the vines for the white are a bit taller than those for the red so you don’t have to squat as low to clip the clusters.

This is how it all begins: from the beginning of one row, you see scattered and dancing columns of greenery. As baskets fill up with clusters of grapes, others come to pick them up and replace them with empty ones. This dance goes on for hours, with just a break for lunch, and continues until the day is over.

From harvesting white grapes to red grapes, this process can last from days to weeks, depending on the size of the chateau and the vineyards. I think my longest visit to this day to Bordeaux was five days in total. I’ve done the 13-hour flight, 10-hour tasting and blending session, and return flight of 13 hours. Who in their right mind would do such a trip waking up before the break of dawn and working till dusk?

I would — and I would do it a hundred times over.

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