It’s Grape and Pistachio Harvest Time

Wednesday, September 1st, 2021

August and September are harvest times in Southern New Mexico. August is the peak time for wine grapes and September is when we harvest the pistachios at Heart of the Desert. Some years we end up harvesting both at the same time leading to long, exhausting days for the farmer and ranch hands.






Grape Harvest

At Heart of the Desert, we harvest grapes at night when they are coolest, and the sugars are the highest. Daytime temperatures are often in the high 90’s during the summer. The harvester is a tall (12 ft.) machine that straddles the vines and plucks just the grapes off the vine.  The leaves aren’t even disturbed.  The vines look the same after the harvester has gone through as they did before—except minus the grapes!  The harvester has big lights that illuminate the row, and since it’s dark, you don’t see the machine.  From a distance, it looks like some sort of hovercraft moving low and slow over the field. You can watch the video here.


We can tell the grapes are ready by the sugar content (brix) and by the color of the seeds.  When a wine grape is mature, the seeds inside the fruit, turn brown.

Each varietal ripens at different times. Some need more time on the wine to produce a sweeter wine. At Heart of the Desert, we harvest Chardonnay, Cabernet, Zinfandel, Shiraz, Riesling, Malvasia Bianca, and Gewürztraminer.



Pistachio Harvest

There are two ways to tell if a pistachio nut is ready to harvest.  The outer hull (called the “epicarp”) separates from the hard, inner shell.  You can rub the hull off with your fingers.  You can also tell by the color of the hull.  It lightens and turns a yellowish pink hue.

It is so interesting to watch the development of the nuts.  The reproductive cycle of the tree so mimics the human reproductive cycle.  There are male and female trees.  The female tree has a flower.  The male tree has the pollen.  The wind blows the pollen across the flowers and fertilization occurs.  A tiny nut embryo forms inside the shell.

The female produces nutshells every year.  If fertilization doesn’t happen, the nutshell remains hollow.

The baby nut grows inside the shell all summer long, and actually overfills the inside of the shell and exerts such internal pressure, that it pops the suture line of the shell open.  The nut remains protected from insects or the elements, because the hull is soft and elastic, and simply stretches and accommodates the increased size.  Sound familiar?

We harvest the nuts off the trees with a mechanical shaker.  Ripe, mature nuts will easily detach from the cluster with a sharp rap.  If the nut hasn’t developed, because for some reason, it didn’t receive the pollen, it stays on the tree.  A farmer’s worst nightmare is shaking the tree and half the nuts don’t come off.  He knows something went amiss during pollination! For more about pistachio harvest, click here.

This year’s crop of pistachios usually starts hitting the shelves in November, just in time for Christmas shopping. Wines take a while to ferment and take on the desired qualities, so they won’t start showing up until the following year.

Enjoy the harvest!




Heart of the Desert is a working pistachio ranch and vineyard with four retail establishments in New Mexico.  They are best known for their farm fresh pistachios and Award-Winning New Mexico wines.  Each store offers wine and pistachio tastings.  They offer worldwide shipping and produce attractive gourmet baskets that make great corporate and family gifts.  The main store, on the ranch in Alamogordo, offers farm tours that showcases how pistachios are grown and processed as well as a stunning Tuscany themed patio that overlooks the groves and is available for weddings, private parties or enjoying a relaxing glass of wine.