English wine producers agree that mechanical grape harvesters are a no brainer for still wine varieties

We were delighted to welcome over 20 leading vineyard managers and winemakers from across the South East to a special machinery demonstration day we held with vineyard contractors SJ Barnes at a vineyard on the Kent / East Sussex border on Friday 8 October.

From 10am till 2pm, still and sparkling English wine producers were able to see one of SJ Barnes’ Pellenc Grapes Line 80 mechanical grape harvesters in action as it navigated the rows of Bacchus.

“One of the best things about the Pellenc Grapes Line is its suitability for our vineyards here in the UK,” said Sam Barnes, founder of SJ Barnes and specialist vineyard sales advisor at NP Seymour. “Because it is a trailed machine, equipped with a hydraulic tow bar for better manoeuvrability, it can cope with the tight headlands we normally see in vineyards which have been planted with hand harvesting in mind.”

Those attending the demonstration were also invited to stand on the top platform to see how the Pellenc’s sorting table carefully removes unwanted matter (MOG) and diseased fruit on the go, before then being able to inspect what the harvester had loaded into the dolavs.

“The Pellenc is far more selective compared to any of the other mechanical harvesters I have used,” said Sam, who travelled to New Zealand to research the different makes and models back in 2019.

“The sorting table really is very effective at ensuring only the best sample of fruit ends up in the bins as, unlike other machine harvesters, you are not just relying on a de-stemmer and some fans to remove leaves and debris. It also has a much gentler cleaning method, which will be important for those looking to use mechanically harvested fruit for sparkling wine production.”

Over the demonstration day, the consensus among vineyard managers and winemakers was that mechanical harvesting was going to be a necessity for the future, particularly if the labour shortages continue.

“For still wine varieties, mechanical harvesting seems to be a no brainer,” said Claire Seymour, sales and marketing director at NP Seymour, the UK’s importer and distributor for Pellenc mechanical harvesters. “I spoke to at least one winemaker who is looking at mechanically harvesting all their Bacchus and is planning to adapt their winery receiving line so that they can use lorries instead of bins.”

Demand is certainly increasing for machine harvesting solutions in the UK. With almost 200Ha booked in for the 2021 season, this year SJ Barnes had to invest in a second Grapes Line 80 to ensure that the contracting company could fulfil growers’ needs.

“Anyone with over 60Ha would find it justifiable to invest in their own Pellenc,” said Sam. “But it is not just about buying the equipment; you need to ensure that you have a skilled operator to drive it and the infrastructure in place to cope with the logistics.”

If you would like to see the machine in action, we are still offering demonstration opportunities and those attending the Vineyard and Winery Show will also be able to see one of the Grapes Line machines on NP Seymour and SJ Barnes’ joint stand.