Chapter 32

Harvesting Wine Grapes

Mechanical Harvesting

Mechanical harvesters are large tractors that straddle grapevine trellises and remove berries or fruit clusters from the vine by work by gently vibrating the vines so that the grapes are separated from their stems. Once the berries or clusters have been shaken free, they are collected by individually sprung “fishplates” that open and close around the vine trunk or trellis supports. The plates are angled to divert fruit to the conveyors. The grapes are then moved along a conveyor where powerful hydraulic fans suck off and chew up leaves and debris.

Vineyard Physical Configuration

Before purchasing a mechanical harvester, the grower must take into consideration a number of factors including 1) ground slope, 2) turning radius, 3) row-spacing or 4) trellising.

Ground Slope

Machine harvesting may be done on hillside too. Most manufacturers advise that their machines will be able to handle a vertical climb of 35 degrees while a side slope should not exceed 20 degrees.

Turning Radius

The headlands must allow for ample turnaround space for harvesters.


Harvesters are not adjustable from side to side. All manufacturers will, however, offer units that accommodate different row spacing, but that is usually between six to eight feet. Eight feet (2.4 m) is generally considered the optimum and 12 feet (3.7 m) the maximum.


A major limitation of mechanical harvesting can be a vineyard's trellis design.


Just about any variety can be harvested by machine, but some are easier than others and still others may simply be impractical from an operational and wine quality standpoint.

Mechanical Harvester Configurations

There are three basic configurations of mechanical harvesters: (1) a dedicated, self-propelled harvester, (2) a tow-behind harvester using a tractor or (3) a multi-function, self-propelled unit that can be used for additional options, such as spraying or hedging.

Dedicated Harvesters

Dedicated harvesters are configured in two ways: they either collect fruit into on-board bins and off load to trucks or gondolas when full (See Figure 32.4) or they transfer the fruit via conveyor to following trucks or gondolas. Collection of fruit into onboard bins automatically limits production speed. Generally, the use of bins on harvesters is relegated to the smaller vineyard.

Tow-behind Harvesters

Tow-behind harvesters (See Figure 33.6) can accomplish the same production as the self-propelled units but are considerably less complicated (no engine or related drive hydraulics) and cost considerably less than dedicated harvesters.

Multi-function, Self-propelled Units

The muli-function harvest machines can be fitted out with other modules for pruning, canopy management, and spraying and can be converted to these and other uses in a relatively short space and time.

Types of Picking Heads

Harvesters are usually classified according to the mechanism by which they apply force. There are two basic harvester designs. Those that apply force directly to the bearing shoot are called trunk shakers and those that supply the force directly to the canopy, known either as pivotal striker and bow-rod picking heads.

Trunk Shaker

The trunk shaker harvester has two parallel, oscillating rails that vibrate the cordon or upper trunk. The grape trunk shaker head moves the vine with berries to the right perpendicular to the vine row, and while the berries are moving right, the head reverses direction, moving the trellis to the left. This is accomplished be a pair of horizontal picking rails moving along the trellis.

Pivotal Striker and Bow-rod Picking Heads

Pivotal striker and bow rod picking heads are canopy or foliage shakers. Canopy shakers were designed for cane pruned vines or when cordons are young or with other systems where the fruit is not near the permanent vine structure. Canopy harvesters are not as efficient at dislodging fruit close to the vine head. Increasing the striking velocity to dislodge the fruit accentuates vine damage and increases fruit contamination with leaves, leaf fragments, and other vine parts.

Pivotal Striker Picking Heads: Most of the commercial harvesters use pivotal strikers that posses a double bank of upright flexible rods arranged parallel to, and on each side of the vine to remove fruit.

Bow-rod Picking Heads: Construction of bow-rods may vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and as the name suggests, the head consists of long loops or bows usually about 5 feet (1.5 m) long attached to a harvesting channel.

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