Missouri has a whopping 126 wineries in the state and to keep up with supply and demand, wineries invest heavily in state-of-the-art machinery. Faster than hand-picking (nearly 10-times faster), this straddling monster is called a Grape Harvester and can strip a row of purple fruit in seconds. To see it in action is hypnotic.
Stone Hill Winery in the northeast region of Missouri demonstrated this quite well for our cameras. We got lucky too. Because of the formidable weather last week the remaining harvest was delayed just long enough for us to get to Hermann and document the activity.
The Grape Harvester moved up and down rows of bountiful trellises literally shaking the profits off the vine and onto conveyer trays, cups and belts and eventually into a catch bin. Field hands are still very much needed. Depending on the pitch of the hill or the spacing between rows or the variety of grapes, we saw as many as 10 laborers working frantically in teams to finish the workload.
Afterwards, we watched a forklift empty loads of wooden barrels into a silver hopper called the Corkscrew Crusher. We were nostalgically hoping to see a look-a-like Lucille Ball doing the iconic grape-stomping dance. But, romantic images of purple-stained toes hoisting overflowing juice buckets is no more. The Crusher can process hundreds of pounds of grapes in minutes. It separates the stems and then punctures the skin so that the pulp and juice turns into a soupy mixture that can be fermented.
There are several more stages before an actual glass of wine can be served but I’m getting a little thirsty and my time in Missouri is sadly coming to a close. For more information, visit: Stone Hill Winery and the Missouri Wines website.