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End of the winter holidays... for the vines

At this time of year, we often talk of the vines resting period. After the harvest and once the leaves have fallen, the vine goes into hibernation mode and the sap retreats into the roots as the cold sets in. The vines then rest and get ready for the next year's campaign which starts when the temperatures rise again with the onset of Spring. But don't imagine for one minute that the winemaker also gets the chance to rest during this time...
vine at winter in Burgundy France


The winter months are perfect to prepare the soil and vines for the coming season. Once the leaves have dropped from the vines, and before the cold winter temperatures have set in, soil is taken from the centre of the vine rows and heaped around the vine stocks to help protect them from the frosts.

The main job over the winter months is pruning, which is sometimes preceded by a pre-pruning to cut the top of last year's growth and to facilitate untangling the branches from the training wires. The vine is from the creeper family of plants, and if not kept under control, can use trees and posts as supports to reach 20 or 30 metres tall... Not very practical if you want to pick the grapes!

Pruning vin Cote du Rhone

Pruning not only serves to limit the growth of the plant, but it also enables to better control the yield, to keep the vine healthy, and thus to increase its longevity. The buds the furthest from the roots will develop first and be the most vigorous. If we reduce the length of the branches, we reduce the distance from the roots, which enables us to limit the amount of grapes produced for the harvest, and thus to improve their quality. It also allows us to keep a more consistent form of the vines to make them easier to work and maintain.

Cordon de Royat pruning Rhone Valley

So how do we prune? There are various different methods, adapted according to the climate, grape varietal and cultural differences. There are more severe methods such as the "Goblet" or "Cordon de Royat" where just one to three eyes are left per branch. Other methods such as the "Guyot" leave between 4 and 10 eyes, leading to a larger yield per vine.

Guyot pruning in Burgundy

When do you prune? Studies have shown that depending on when the vines are pruned, you get more or less dense vegetation. The best time is when the vines are fully resting. If you prune before the leaves have naturally fallen from the vines, you delay the buds from coming out.

vine winter work Rhone Valley

Once the pruning has finished, the vines that have had a long branch left need to have them attached to the training wires or posts. It's another long, manual process and after all the effort the winemaker deserves some well earned rest... But then Spring is upon us and the winemaker needs to carefully monitor the growth of the new shoots, and work the soil. But that's another story for another time!


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