Preparing for Harvest: Multiple Methods Maximize Vineyard Productivity

By: Cheryl Gray

From vine to wine, the preparation for harvesting grapes means that some vineyards will explore the latest equipment, some will remain loyal to the tried and true, and others may deploy the best of both. For all of these options, vineyards turn to equipment and tool suppliers.

There is a unique and virtually exclusive link between Idaho and Italy, wherein two family-owned businesses are working together to bring a well-known name in vineyard equipment from one side of the Atlantic to the other. That equipment pipeline is serviced by Allen International, the marketing arm for Rinieri North America. Rinieri, a globally recognized, family-owned brand from Forli, Italy, is among the largest manufacturers in the world for vineyard and orchard equipment, serving vineyards on multiple continents for nearly 100 years.  

  Allen International, headquartered in Idaho, is named after owners Grant and Teresa Allen. In 2014, Grant Allen leveraged his more than three decades in the agricultural industry by teaming up his company with Rinieri. From that point forward, Allen International has helped the manufacturing juggernaut expand its market in North America.  

  As Rinieri’s North American representative, Allen is always in direct contact with dealers. He assists them in understanding the machinery and how best to market Rinieri products to vineyard customers. Allen is the point man in the field for grape growers, ready to assist vineyards by answering questions either remotely or one-on-one, including arranging for on-site equipment demonstrations. For those who want a virtual look at what Rinieri equipment can do, Allen provides videos of the equipment in action on his company website.  Rinieri, he says, has something for everyone.  

  “Rinieri makes an impressive line of vineyard and orchard equipment! The main focus is on everything organic, so we do not sell chemical sprayers, but we sell everything to help reduce or eliminate chemicals. “

  As an example, the Rinieri Model Velox 8 is a dual-sided in-row cultivator, designed to reduce the need for chemicals in weed control. Its sensor levels protect the vine system while the machinery does its job to destroy weeds. Another ecologically designed piece of equipment used for weed control is the Rinieri TURBO, built either left or right-sided. The TURBO’s hoeing blade can avoid vineyard plants, including those planted very close, with a 90-degree rotation of the tool. It can work up to a speed of six miles per hour. The TURBO is also designed to be assembled on other types of equipment, such as cultivators and disc harrows. 

  “No one offers the variety of ground tools like Rinieri,” says Allen. “We also have shredders for shredding the vines and branches in the row. The shredder is also great for mowing the grass in between rows.”

  Rinieri touts its Twin Turbo Narrow as the best tool for cultivating vineyard rows close to the vine, performing the task on both sides of the row without causing any damage. There is also the newly launched Rinieri Bio-Dynamic for vineyards. This product line is designed for super-fast weeding in vineyards and orchards with an operating speed of up to seven miles per hour. There is also a Bio-Dynamic Duo version with weed cutters on either side.  

  Allen tells The Grapevine Magazine that, in addition to ground tools such as weeding machines, cultivating machines, mowing machines, disc machines and the like, Rinieri also offers tractor-mounted equipment for maintaining vines, including trimmers/hedgers and de-leafers, which he says are tools primarily used in the late spring and early summer. Rinieri also manufactures pre-pruners, which are generally used in the winter.

  Allen International covers a vast area of North American territory on behalf of Rinieri. Its distribution blankets all of the western United States, some central parts of the country and most of the East Coast. The company’s distribution also stretches into the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia. Allen International does not inventory machines, which Allen says is cost-effective for both the company and its vineyard clients.  

  “Each of our importers buys directly from the factory and inventory machines and parts to support the Rinieri brand of products,” he says.  

  When preparing for harvest, Gamble Family Vineyards in Napa Valley places a high premium on sustainability and conservation. Third-generation farmer Tom Gamble runs the vineyard and winery, building upon the farming and ranching legacy that his family began in 1916. Gamble Family Vineyards stretches across 175 acres of premium estate vineyards in the coveted AVAs of Oakville, Yountville, Mt. Veeder and Rutherford. 

  The Gamble family was the driving force behind the 1969 Napa Valley Agricultural Preserve, a legacy it carries on today. As loyal stewards of land it has farmed for more than a century, Gamble Family Vineyards plays an active role in the Napa Valley Vintners and the Napa Valley River Restoration Project. 

  Raymond Reyes is Director of Viticulture and Winery Relations for Gamble Family Vineyards. He details the company’s steps to make sure that the grape harvest produces a maximum yield. “Harvest preparation involves several key inputs: Knowing the quantity of grapes to be harvested, location of harvest, and the delivery and crushing capabilities of the receiving winery or facility determines the amount of required mechanical equipment, support and labor.”

  Reyes says they deploy mechanical tools such as a tractor and hedger to remove excess vegetation and clear the way for manual harvesting. Gamble Family Vineyards assembles 10-person manual harvesting crews. That includes a tractor driver, eight workers for picking and one worker in charge of removing MOG, an acronym Reyes says stands for “material other than grapes,” including leaves, canes and shoots. That designated worker also keeps an eye out for defective grape clusters.

  For efficiency and timely delivery, Reyes says the vineyard plans on two tractors per manual labor crew. The type of tractor, wheel versus track, depends on the terrain, whether flat or hillside. Due to the landscape at Gamble, which Reyes says stretches from the valley floor to its hillside Mt. Veeder property, the vineyard uses both tractor types.  

  Harvest trailers are required to hold the harvested fruit. There are two types most often used in the Napa Valley region, 4×4 half-ton plastic macro bins and two and half-ton steel valley bins. Reyes says that at Gamble, they harvest using 4×4 plastic macro bins.  

  Consideration must be given to the truck sizes needed to deliver the grapes. This varies, Reyes says, depending upon the capabilities of and access to the receiving winery or crushing facility. Due to the limited access at the Gamble Winery, grape delivery arrives on small flatbed trucks with a capacity of up to ten tons. Forklifts are required to load bins onto the delivery truck, and the size of the harvest bin determines the type of forklift used. Gamble uses portable field pallet scales to weigh individual harvest bins.

  OSHA rules govern certain equipment requirements for manual labor crews. Practical comfort elements, such as portable toilets, must be precisely stationed throughout the vineyards and no more than a ten-minute walk away from the worksite. To meet the deadline for early morning deliveries of grapes, portable lighting to facilitate overnight harvests is a must. 

  For Gamble Family Vineyards, the people who execute the manual labor play a critical role in preparing for harvest. The reason is all about timing, which directly affects the winemaking process.

  “The now preferred harvest protocol is to deliver fruit when cold for grape phenolic preservation and for early morning deliveries to facilitate timely facility crushing,” says Reyes. “Gamble prefers to determine the levels of grape manipulation or crushing to fit the intended or designated tier. For example, the Gamble Sauvignon Blanc has three intended uses requiring three different phenolic and sensory profiles. The Sauvignon Blanc is whole-cluster-pressed within a mechanical bladder press that can be programmed to determine the level of ‘pressing’ of the grapes. This is also referred to as the cuts. Each level can and will exhibit a different sensory profile. Mechanical harvesting does not allow for this level of precision winemaking.”

  For small equipment and tools, Reyes says that Gamble turns to Central Valley Hardware, with locations in Napa Valley and St. Helena. For larger equipment needs, the choice is Green Valley Tractor, located in Fairfield. Reyes says that the combination of outstanding service and a personal touch from these companies goes a long way.

  No matter the size of the vineyard operation, fundamental tools and equipment – and key people who operate them – make preparing for harvest run smoothly. The experts say that detailed planning makes an important difference in outcomes. Of course, the most important outcome, they say, is what pours out from the wine bottle — the perfect glass of wine.

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