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Archive from July 2014

Last of the summer work in the vineyard ahead of the 2014 harvest

Following a very active spring in the vineyard with de-budding, the flowering of the vines, and raising the training wires, you might have thought that the hardest work has been done. However there are still a few tasks left to do in the beginning of summer before the grapes are left alone to slowly ripen. Trimming the vines, pinching out the shoots that grow in leaf joints, and removing some of the leaves may be necessary to obtain the best possible grapes come the harvest.

Once the vines have flowered, the grape berries will slowly grow until they reach full size, and will then ripen. To help them, the winemaker can choose to trim the vines to remove some of the branches to better manage the flow of sap, and to direct it towards the grape bunches. This also helps remove some of the young vegetation which is not yet able to help ripen the grapes via photosynthesis. Less foliage will also help the air circulate more freely around the grapes which help protect against disease, and also means that the organic treatments will be more effective. Trimming is done mechanically for the most part.

Trimming the leaves from the vines

With the same goal in mind, the shoots that sprout from between the leaf branches can also be removed. These will not produce any fruit and will compete for energy from the plant. It's done by hand and is a long and laborious process, so is not often undertaken.

More commonly some of the leaves are removed from the lower branches to improve air flow and to help the grapes get more sunlight and hence ripen more easily. It also helps the harvesters pick the grapes more easily and reduces the risk of rot. However this is not done in every region and depends on the weather, because if there is too much sun and hot weather, then the grapes need the protection of the leaves to stop them burning. Removing the leaves can be done manually or mechanically for trained vines by sucking up the leaves, blowing them off or burning them off thermally.

tilling the vineyard Rhone Valley France

At the same time, the vines continue to be treated as necessary and the weeding continues. With organic farming, weeding is done by tilling the soil between the vines. The organic treatments are contact treatments and stay on the outside of the plant, contrary to protecting the plant from within with chemical treatments. This means that if it rains, they get washed off, which can mean that the vines have to be treated more often than with conventional means.

Closer to the harvest, if the winemaker has the luxury of having too many grapes, s/he may decide to reduce the yield to improve the quality of the harvest. This is done by picking some of the bunches that are not yet mature. This is sometimes called a green harvest. Normally the winemaker has already tried to manage the quantity of grapes through pruning and de-budding.

There's usually some time available for the winemaker to take some well earned rest whilst waiting for the grapes to ripen. But the winemaker always has one eye on the sky hoping to avoid any thunder or hail storms.

More articles on working in the vineyard:


De-budding and training the vines

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Training the vines in Bordeaux

We were at Château Beau Rivage near Bordeaux last weekend for a wine Discovery Experience Day. With the winemaker, Christine Nadalié, by our sides the aim of the day was to learn more about all the work carried out in the vineyard to produce the best possible grapes come harvest time.


Adopt a vine gift in Bordeaux to learn how to be a winemaker


The day started with a little walk in the vineyard, during which we made several stops so that Christine could explain the characteristics of the different grape varieties and the terroir. She brought us up to speed on the work already accomplished in the vineyard since last winter, and she showed us a plot that has recently been replanted with vines.

Since our last visit in May, the vines have grown lots and the flowering period has been and gone. This is a very important stage in determining the potential yield of the harvest to com, and generally it went well, with just a little bit of millerandage when the flowers didn't pollinate properly. Millerandage causes some of the grape berries to not develop to the normal size, and so smaller grapes are interspersed with normal sized grapes.

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At the far end of the vineyard, we arrived at the plot of Merlot where the adopted vines are located, and so we took a few minutes to snap some photos. The vegetation continues to grow rampantly, and so it has to be managed and kept under control with the help of training wires. Christine showed us how to raise the wires, and then to place any falling branches in between them. We then split up into pairs to have a go ourselves. As we moved down the rows, we also removed any unwanted shoots and growth from the trunks of the vines, which otherwise waste some of the plant's energy.


vineyard experience in France

Back at the winery, we tasted some of the different wines and vintages and enjoyed the winemaker's meal. We continued the day in the chai where Christine explained how the grapes will be received during the harvest, and how the sugar is transformed into alcohol during fermentation.


Original wine gift

We then went through to the barrel room to see where the wines rest during the ageing period. Here, Christine explained the influence that the oak barrels have on the wine, and answered our questions on many topics ranging from blending to biodynamic wine-making. Many thanks to all of our participants and to Christine for having shared the day with us.

See you soon for the harvest!

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