On 30th April, the Tokaj Council of Wine Communities voted to re-authorise mechanical harvest in the Tokaj region, a method banned just two and a half years before. While the decision does not come as much of shock to local producers, as mechanical picking had never really been used in the region, the move clearly shows growing concerns about the lack of manual workforce in the vineyards.
Starting from the 2020 vintage, grapes for wines to be released under the 'Other Whites' and 'Pezsgő' categories of the Tokaj Product Specification, that is to say, most of the region's dry still and sparkling wines, will, in principle, be allowed to be harvested mechanically. As a matter of fact, however, there is currently not a single grape harvester in the region, and the one the Bodrogkisfalud Community Winery is planning to purchase in order to rent out to growers will only be delivered for the 2021 harvest, so the diminishing numbers of pickers are clearly in no danger of being replaced by machinery overnight.
The susceptibility of Furmint to powdery mildew and other rots, as well as difficult access to the top vineyard sites generally necessitate selective hand-picking and careful manual sorting for high-end dry and sweet wines, which means mechanical harvest is not likely to become a widespread practice unless coupled with high-precision optical sorting, a process almost completely unknown in Hungary. Mechanical harvest, therefore, appears really to be more of a viable option for sparkling wines and early-ripening varieties like Muscat Blanc in the short run. Botrytised berries for Aszú wines will certainly remain to be picked by hand for decades or even centuries to come.