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A year in the life of a winemaker
A year in the life of a winemaker
“In the winemaker’s almanac …
Each month, you will invest energy in cultivating the vineyard
You will take care of pruning, trellising and leaf removal
You will avoid such diseases as mildew or powdery mildew
You will respect the vegetative cycle
You will monitor the weather conditions
You will carefully observe fruit set and ripening
You will decide upon the harvest date…”
The winemaker vinifies the grapes. In the vineyard, this is also ploughing time.
Why is this the perfect time for ploughing?
During the vegetative phase, the vines extract the strength they need to grow from the soil and produce quality grapes. The goal is now to add organic fertilizer to the soil to nourish it and prevent deficiencies.
NOVEMBER TO JANUARY
As soon as leaf-fall ends, winemakers begin pruning. This period runs into mid-March.
When does pruning start?
The winemakers begin as early as mid-November, unless they are able to do it later in a shorter timeframe. This is a long process, but a determining factor in the vineyard’s growth.
The pruning dovetails the removal of the unwanted wood to discard the pruned branches. There are two ways to dispose of these branches: burning or grinding.
What are the advantages of grinding or burning?
Mechanical grinding has the advantage of speed, and the shredded branches left in the rows help regenerate the soil’s organic matter, while the ash that results from burning adds minerals to the soil.
The vine awakens from its winter sleep: It is the beginning of a new growth cycle. This month, the winegrower works on the trellising.
What part of the plant’s life cycle is beginning?
The sap rises in the branches and oozes through the scars left by the pruner’s shears. It is said that the vine is weeping! The winegrower paces his work to align with the rhythm of vine’s growth and climatic conditions.
Now is the bud break phase: the buds swell to show the first leaves and future branches. The winegrower completes the operation by hand with a tire-cavaillon.
Why is this a delicate phase in the plant’s life?
Spring frosts can harm the quality of the crop by burning the young branch, as happened in April 1991.
Between disbudding and flowering, the winemaker selects the branches that will help produce quality grapes.
Why is activity speeding up?
The branches grow fast, between 5 and 15 centimeters a day: they must be lifted and trellised regularly before being pollarded (trimmed).
The vine enters its reproductive cycle with a flowering period from May to June.
How is flowering important to the winegrower?
It directly influences the quantity and quality of the grapes and the harvest date. Success of this phase depends on climatic conditions.9
Now for the fruit set: flowering has come to an end and the flowers become berries. The hot, humid weather means this period is conducive to a number of pests.
Can grape ripeness be predicted?
More than three months in advance, winemakers have a very good notion of the harvest date for peak grape ripeness, as it occurs 120 days after flowering (particularly for Merlot noir) and 45 days after mid-veraison (in August). At fruit set, the leaves are thinned out on the vines on the side facing the sunrise and those vines too laden with grapes are thinned (green harvest).
The ripening phase (véraison): the grapes change colour and ripening begins. There is a second phase of leaf-stripping on clusters that are not yet ripening evenly.
How long is the ripening period?
It depends on the weather conditions, which will influence the harvest quality. Another phenomenon of this phase: the vine ceases its vegetative growth.
Once the aoûtement takes place, the winegrower prepares for the harvest, to gather the healthy, ripe grapes, free of noble rot (botrytis). The harvest lasts one to three weeks, depending on the size of the vineyard and the weather.
What is the right time to harvest?
This decision is not an easy one, as each vintage is different. Ripeness checks and grape tastings are nearly constant!