How often do I get asked the question: “But apart from the harvest period, is there anything else to do in the winery?”
And each time I accompany my ‘yes’ with a slightly smug smile.
The Colpo di Vino blog well chronicles the work of a winery from January to December, focusing especially on the vineyard. Enjoy reading.
22 January, the feast day of St Vincent (patron saint of winegrowers) is traditionally the symbolic date of the official start of vineyard work. In fact, such operations can start as early as 15 December and end in March.
The vine, having come through the winter and prepared by pruning, reacts with its “weeping” (colourless and rich in minerals and hormones) to the effects of the spring sun which, by warming the soil, drives the sleeping sap towards the ends of the stump; for a few days, in a vital drop by drop, the pruning cuts exude this sap until they heal completely. The entire circulatory system of the plant is under pressure at this point, allowing the buds to open: this is the budding phase, marking the start of a new annual cycle. However, at this time, the young shoots are very rich in water and spring frosts can be fatal. During the spring rebirth, the winegrower carries out the first “tilling”; he moves the clods of earth that have closed in on themselves since the previous autumn, which further warms the soil and thus the roots. This provides good aeration of the soil, which encourages root regrowth and the entire soil life is reactivated. In addition, this initial processing destroys the weeds that have grown between the rows. The land will continue to be worked throughout the cycle, according to the rhythm of herbaceous plant growth and the necessary maintenance of good air and rainwater circulation to the deep soil layers and roots. Moreover, by destroying any superficial roots that may have developed, the winegrower ensures that, by way of compensation, the vine’s deeper roots develop; these in fact sink into the soil, allowing better water supply to the plant in the event of summer drought and optimum absorption of the nutrients characteristic of the composition of the soil, which can encourage better expression of the area’s typical features. Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
In order to ensure better exposure of the foliage to sunlight, an attempt is made to distribute the leaves along a vertical surface: this is achieved by guiding the shoots along wires stretched between the posts of the rows. These interventions will accompany the growth of the vine following its rhythm thanks to the addition of successive overlapping strands that will finally ensure the desired distribution.
May: screening the vineyard
To prevent the proliferation of herbaceous plants, a second series of superficial soil works is carried out in May. The vines are also sprayed with products designed to protect them from disease and pests. Depending on the pruning carried out and the vegetative conditions of the year, other buds than those deliberately spared by pruning may develop on all or part of the vines. The ‘suckers’, twigs which grow on the stem and which, because of their arrangement, absorb a considerable amount of sap to the detriment of the other branches, are eliminated, the root suckers are cut off and the ‘chequering’, i.e. the removal of non-juvenile shoots, is carried out.
June: Piling and stripping
In the case of espalier vines, the winegrower ties the young branches to the rows. Being a continuous growing plant, the vine does not cease to develop; the vegetation can then thicken rapidly, become invasive and disturb subsequent processing, causing excessive clumping of the vegetation, which prevents optimum ripening of the grapes. To ensure that the vegetation remains within the desired height and thickness, the branches are stripped or topped, their number and frequency varying according to their growth rate.
July-August: thinning and pesticide treatments
After flowering it is possible to assess the number and distribution of bunches on the vines; if nature has been too generous or if certain previous cultivation practices have led to an increase in the fertility of the vines, the number of bunches may prove to be excessive and their distribution unfavourable to good ripening. Thinning out” is then carried out, an operation that requires a great deal of care, consisting of removing the bunches during the summer – before they ripen – so that the number and distribution of the most resistant are compatible with the desired level of ripeness. In August, soil operations generally stop as the growth of adventitious plants slows down. However, vineyard monitoring remains essential, and until September, screening may be necessary if there is a risk of disease.
September-October: the grape harvest
All this work, the dates and frequency of which vary each year depending on the weather, the location of the crop and the growth of the vines, culminates in the grape harvest, the ultimate goal of all the operations carried out in the vineyard and the birth of a new product: wine. At the beginning of September, the winegrower will examine the level of ripeness by regularly picking the grapes in order to fix the date of harvest. In order to perfect ripening, a few weeks before the possible harvest date, the leaves around the bunches will be removed to improve aeration and exposure. In Mediterranean regions, harvesting can start at the end of August; however, in most cases, it takes place from mid-September until around mid-October and beyond.
November-December: pruning and ridging
The vine starts to lose its leaves at the beginning of autumn) between November and December, and enters a winter resting phase. The winegrower cuts the long shoots and tamps down the vines to protect them from the cold and to allow rainwater to run off during the winter. Thus, the cycle of viticultural work is over; with the new year and the resumption of pruning work, a new wine year or “campaign” will begin.
I am not usually so detailed, but at least I can make the ideas clearer and I hope that this article has also helped you to identify with the countless labours of winegrowers.