Grown for its fruit, the vine is a climbing plant with an annual cycle. After unhurried stirrings at the tail end of winter, it grows, flowers and prospers through the spring and summer to its culmination in autumn when its bunches of grapes are picked.
SPRING, GENTLE AWAKENINGS
Waking slowly, this is a delicate time for the vine as its growth cycle gets underway. It starts with tiny points of green sprouting from the buds. Then, the leaves develop, followed by rudimentary bunches of grapes called inflorescences. The fruiting canes, the branches that bear both leaves and fruit, continue to grow.
The buds that are surplus to the plant and vinegrower’s needs are removed: budding reduces the leaf cover and redirects sap to the future bunches of grapes.
In the middle of spring, the inflorescences turn to buds for the coming blossom. Flowering lasts for 10 to 15 days from the end of spring to the beginning of summer. This is the time, for those who do it, for tilling and shallowing ploughing between the rows of vines, methods for doing this vary from hand-held plough shares pulled by a winch, small tractors and caterpillar tractors to horse drawn ploughs: turning the earth is a method of aeration and encourages the natural micro-organisms in the soil to prosper.
All the while…
In the cellar the wines are maturing, some in oak tuns (very, very big barrels) and casks. Bottling for the previous vintage is just before the summer for some cuvées and even into the following autumn for others.
SUMMER, MAKE WAY FOR THE GRAPES
Pollination turns each flower to a small green grape berry. From the middle of summer, as the berries slowly swell and start to touch, the bunches tip to hang vertically. This is called setting and closure.
Alongside top scraping and tilling, the vinegrower now starts tying up the branches so that each bunch gets maximum sunlight and aeration. This is also when the vinegrower will use plant health products to protect their grapes against plant pathogens including downy and powdery mildew. Continuing agricultural R&D means that vine-tending techniques are evolving to allow ever more precision in treatment with full recognition of the vines’ needs and the influence of weather conditions, while maintaining and improving quality.
As the summer closes in, the berries ripen and start to change colour – called veraison – and the fruiting canes turn from green to brown. As each vine generously prepares its juicy fruit, it is also getting ready for the coming winter with lignification where the wood builds up its reserves and hardens to be able to withstand frost.
All the while…
In the estate buildings the vatroom and cellars are being prepared for the coming harvest: the vats, pipes, pumps and presses are cleaned again and all the equipment is checked to be in full working order and ready for the busy time ahead. Once everything is in order, our vinegrower-winemakers can take a few days of well-earned rest before the harvest begins.
AUTUMN, EVERYTHING SPEEDS UP!
As autumn colours make their debut in the vineyards, the estates open their doors to seasonal workers for the harvest: grape picking can get underway! With a bucket and grape knife or grape secateurs in hand, the pickers gather in the precious bunches for 10 or more days.
One by one from the middle of autumn the leaves fall from the vines as they go into their rest phase. The handful of buds at the bases of the leaves will now wait for next spring, this is called dormancy.
All the while...
The cellar is in full swing, the freshly picked grapes are transported to the vatroom. With variations from winemaker to winemaker depending on their vinification choices, the grapes are vatted for several days for maceration. The winemaker keeps a very close eye on how alcoholic fermentation is progressing (the sugar is turned to alcohol) and during that time may pump the juice produced by the grapes’ own weight, from the bottom of the vat over the cap of grapes floating at the top of the vat – pumping over – or punch the cap down into the fermenting must before pressing. This is the most active phase in the vatroom by far, and the most exhausting. The run off juice from the maceration vat and the press juice are then transferred to maturing vessels that may be concrete, resin-lined, stainless steel or oak vats or oak tuns and barrels or even amphorae.
WINTER, DEEP SLEEP
Though the vines sleep, our vinegrower-winemakers don’t! From mid-November and when all the leaves have fallen from the vines and right up to the end of the following March, the vinegrowers prune each vine into a goblet form. This is a very precise and exacting manual job, where each of the 3 to 5 branches should have 4 to 5, 2-bud spurs.
It is essential to do this job right as the result determines how well the vine will grow and how much fruit, in theory, it will bear. This is also the time for repairs in the vineyards (replacing training stakes and wires etc. and winter ploughing.
All the while...
In the cellars, malolactic fermentation (malic acid is turned to lactic acid) has come to an end. After racking (removal of larger particles and container change), the wines continue maturing in vats, tuns and barrels. This time of rest is also when the aromas and flavours can grow and mature up to the following spring when the wine is bottled.