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Angus Pattullo
29 September 2021 | Winemaking | Angus Pattullo

Handpicking and Hand Sorting

Brown Hill Hand Picking Blog

Handpicking and Hand Sorting

Mechanical harvesters are popular at many wineries across Australia, but we remain dedicated to handpicking and hand sorting our grapes. In our latest article, we compare the benefits of handpicking and hand sorting grapes.

What is handpicking?

In winemaking, handpicking is the process of harvesting bunches of grapes by hand instead of using a mechanical harvester. Handpicking means only handheld tools are used, though these tools can be either electric or manual. Handpicking was the only way to harvest wine grapes prior to the introduction of machine harvesting in the 1960s. And while there have been considerable advancements in mechanical harvesting technology since then, at Brown Hill, we choose to handpick all of our fruit and hand sort all of our red grapes.

There are many factors impacting the decision between handpicking or machine harvesting, ranging from practical to philosophical. These include:

  • Proximity of the vineyard to the winery
  • Vineyard accessibility
  • Intended wine style
  • The ethos of the winery or winemaker


Handpicking allows you to get up close and personal to the grapes. This means you can select the bunches to pick, so you can avoid bunches that are not up to standard, whether that means unripe, overripe or damaged fruit.

Handpicking also provides the flexibility to harvest sections of a vineyard at different times. This means you can pick when each block is at optimal ripeness. Another benefit of handpicking is that during the process, the grapes are handled gently, so they arrive at the winery intact. Mechanical harvesters, on the other hand, use rods to shake the vines and dislodge the fruit, which can result in bruising. This means far less oxidation occurs during handpicking, so grapes retain their more delicate aromas and flavours. Additionally, less sulphur dioxide is used because the berries are not broken and are less likely to have been oxidised.

From a sustainability viewpoint, handpicking reduces fuel costs and a winery’s carbon footprint. All types of grapevines can be handpicked, regardless of their age or how they have been trained (i.e. the shape and size of the grapevine), so this option is open to any winery.

What are the disadvantages of hand picking?

While handpicking certainly conjures the romance of traditional winemaking, it is a slow process. This can prove tricky if you need to harvest grapes quickly and around uncontrollable weather conditions. Because of the human element, handpicking is labour intensive and can be quite costly for a winery. However, mechanical harvesters are also expensive as they are large agricultural pieces of equipment.

When handpicking, it can be difficult to harvest grapes at night because of poor visibility in the dark. This is important as it’s often best to harvest grapes during the cool of night or in the early hours of the morning to maximise their quality and freshness. 

What is machine harvesting?

For most wines on the market today, and especially those at the more economic end of the scale, harvesting machines play a huge role in bringing in the fruit that makes it into the bottle. It is not certain if you can taste a difference in handpicked or machine-harvested grapes, however the decision to handpick or not often comes down to practical and financial factors.

Harvesting machines were originally developed in the 1960s in the USA, but unionised grape pickers blocked their commercial use, and so Australia became the first major market for mechanical harvesters. The Wine Society reports that this new technology was a milestone for the industry, as it allowed producers to think big and plant large 400 hectare plots in areas that would have otherwise been unfeasible to work without any sufficient labour nearby. Today's machines have come a long way and nowadays producers recognise that mechanical harvesting has two key advantages over old-fashioned hand picking:

  • Machines can pick large areas quickly at optimum ripeness, or perhaps before a weather front sets in, helping to prevent crop loss. It's estimated that a machine can pick a hectare of vineyard in no more than five hours, while hand labour could take between one and 10 days to harvest the same area.
  • Machines can run 24 hours a day, and importantly pick at night when it's cool, which is especially useful in hot regions. This helps to protect fruity aromas, slows down processes such as browning that damage the juice, and reduces the cost of refrigeration at the winery.

While mechanical harvesters have certainly contributed to many advancements in viticulture, we prefer to handpick all of our wines to ensure the highest quality.

What is hand SORTING?

After our red wines are handpicked and destemmed, they are hand sorted on our sorting table.

Hand sorting ensures that all other matter – such as stalks, leaves, petioles and shot berries – are pulled out prior to fermentation. If these discarded materials (also known as MOG – ‘matter other than grapes’) are allowed to ferment with the wine, they will taint the wine with a green sappy flavour.

The only disadvantage to hand sorting is that it is a slower and more expensive process than mechanised versions of sorting, as you generally need six to eight staff working on a sorting table. However, hand sorting also ensures that only the very best berries are used to make the wine. So the effort is worth the end result.


Golden Horseshoe Chardonnay

A fine example of Margaret River chardonnay. The grapes were handpicked at a variety of ripeness levels over several days before being chilled to 5 degrees Celsius overnight. After whole bunch pressing, the juice was racked to French oak barrels of which one third were new. The wine was fermented in barrel and allowed to mature for nine months in contact with the fermentation lees which were stirred monthly to encourage the development of a fuller body and softer texture. Aromas of white peach and melon leading to a well-balanced palate with layers of flavour. The oak is well integrated with slightly toasty notes on the palate. Serve with flaky white fish or salmon. 

Ivanhoe Reserve Cabernet

The grapes were handpicked at a variety of ripeness levels over 14 days. The fruit was hand sorted, crushed and then transferred to fermentation tanks. After fermentation, the wine was pressed off the skins and split between tanks and barrels to undergo malolactic fermentation. Once completed the wine was aged for 18 months in French oak barriques of which 35% were new. This wine is an exercise in balance and harmony. Vibrant blackcurrant and cassis combine with dark chocolate and liquorice notes derived from aging in French oak. The rich, silky palate is all blackberries and dark cherries, and the finish is long and elegant with silky tannins. Perfect served with chargrilled eye fillet.


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