“There is no doubt that when I mention that my husband owns and runs a winery many people immediately conjure up a romantic image of vineyards set amongst rolling hills with the gentle hum of happy, chatting pickers touched by the late September sunshine.
While this is indeed not entirely wrong, a deeper reflection would lead you to the conclusion that those days are to some extent behind us and for those who have read Clochemerle by Gabriel Chevallier (a great insight into village life and politics in Burgundy in 1930’s) one would rightly question to what extent this harmony ever existed!! Despite this many guests that visit us in the wine rooms or in the winery are surprised to hear we also pick by machine. With one prick I feel like I have burst a bubble, the image shattered.
The question that arises is – is machine picking better? The answer – nearly always but sometimes hand picking is better too. Bewilderment all round follows!
The assumption that picking by hand results in higher quality wines, as the selection occurs in the vineyard, is a myth that can be true but isn’t always. It assumes that pickers are diligent and apply their skills and training. Incentivisation and management play a role but paying people by the hour or by output has been a dilemma faced by businesses throughout the world, regardless of industry, for centuries.
Each method has its role and for us at Höpler a combination of mechanical and hand picking is optimal. Each wine region has a different structure, climate and labour laws, which results in different picking practices. 20 years ago the high price of a mechanical picking machine was econically out of reach for us and we made our first investment when we could ‘see’ the breakeven cost falling under 10 years. We wait for the optimal crossover of price and technological progress. A few years on we are delighted with our decision but this does not mean we ‘throw out’ the old methods. I am sure we will continue in this hybrid manner for many years to come.