Just because grapes are crushed to make wine doesn’t mean they should be harshly handled during harvest. At Penns Woods Winery, not breaking grapes during harvest is our number one priority.
Our president and winemaker Gino Razzi is passionate about every winemaking step and speaks with reverence about hand harvesting. He says it’s the only way to ensure that we preserve the integrity of the grape from the time it leaves the vine until we choose to crush it—scant hours later.
"When you machine harvest, there’s a good chance you’ll break the grape,” Gino explains. “As soon as that happens, wild yeast and bacteria mingle with the sugar, and that starts fermentation. That’s a deviation from standard, controlled fermentation, and the results are undesirable for us.”
And although Penns Woods picks roughly five tons a day during harvest, we only use 15-pound lugs (containers) to hold and transport our precious cargo to further prevent breakage. This, too, differs from machine harvested grapes, which are often piled into large containers that put the squeeze on delicate grapes, particularly those on the bottom of the pile.
Harvest at Penns Woods starts in September when the grapes are ready—when they are ripe and rich with juice. We don’t rush them; we harvest according to their schedule. Gino notes that our grapes ripened quickly this year and is more than happy with the sampling he’s done: he’s deemed the quality “excellent.”
We hire a skilled crew to hand harvest our grapes, but we also rely on volunteers, friends of the winery who love our grapes (and our wine!) as much as we do. We start lovingly picking grapes very early in the morning until around 6 a.m. Then they’re immediately transported to the winery, where they’re crushed by 8 p.m. By 12 a.m. they’re inoculated with the exact yeast Gino specifies to start fermentation.
“Great wines are made by shortening the time from harvest to crush to inoculation,” Gino adds. “It’s very important. There’s wild yeast in the air, but that’s not what you want for great wine—there are different yeasts to start fermentation for different grapes. We choose the right yeast for the right grape and do it the same day, within hours of harvest.”
And not to brag—but we can’t help ourselves—we seem to be doing something right. Gino’s careful attention to every step of the process has made some mighty fine award-winning wines.
If it’s September (and even through to mid October—remember, we harvest when the grapes say so), give us a call to see if we’re picking grapes and how you might help. Missed hand harvesting this year? Come visit us and taste the Penns Woods difference. Better yet, join our Wine Club and enjoy a tour of the vineyard with Gino (Estate Club) or the winery and vineyard (Grand Cru Club), just one of the many great reasons to be Penns Woods Winery members.
Penns Woods Winery is a family-run Pennsylvania winery. With more than 40 years of experience in the wine business, winemaker Gino Razzi and his daughter, Carley Mack, produce award-winning wines from Pennsylvania-grown grapes. Penns Woods wines can be found in restaurants throughout Philadelphia and its surrounding suburbs. Stop in to your local state store and pick from a limited selection of wines, or visit our tasting room for the full offering. The tasting room in Chadds Ford provides an all-around vineyard experience and hosts live music, food and wine pairings and other exciting events each weekend. Score Penns Woods winery news in your inbox by signing up for our newsletter today!
Photography by Alexandra Whitney Photography.
Go behind the scenes with the Penns Woods Winery team in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.