The vineyards await a spring awakening: Richard Esling, February 16
Pruning the vines correctly can determine the success or failure of the coming year’s harvest. It is a heavy task, little or no mechanization possible and therefore carried out by an army of winegrowers armed with various types of pruning shears. In mid-February, the work is coming to an end and the vines are patiently waiting for the spring heat to open the sleeping buds.
Not that vineyard owners can sit back and relax, as the next few weeks are some of the most worrying. The last week in the Bergerac vineyard has seen glorious sunshine during the day, with temperatures of minus eight some nights and severe white frosts. Ideal at this time of year, as it can reduce the number of pests and diseases and improve the health of the vines. But subsequent frosts once the buds have burst can be catastrophic.
Such was the case last year when vineyards across France and other parts of Europe came alive in February, with daytime temperatures approaching 30 degrees Celsius. Then came the late March and early April frosts, wiping out much of the crop to come that year. Some growers have lost up to 90% of their harvest, as tender young shoots and embryonic bunches of grapes have been scorched by severe frosts.
This year the weather is so good that the winter has been cold and the vines are still asleep, but it is still early and global warming can still wreak havoc with extreme temperatures both high and low disrupting patterns. normal in the natural world. . As this situation seems unlikely to go away any time soon, growers around the world are looking for methods to prevent frost damage, in addition to those currently in use.
But for now, last year’s growth has been pruned and the sleeping vines are left with just the right number of fruiting canes and just the right number of buds per cane. Anyone who has a vine knows that it grows like crazy and for wine production this growth must be drastically tamed in order to reduce foliage and concentrate the vine’s vigor in a chosen number of grape clusters.
There are many different methods of pruning and tending vines, each suited to the particular climate and terrain of the vineyard. In the Bergerac region, the main methods of vine pruning are similar to those in the neighboring Bordeaux region, called “guyot simple” and “guyot double”. Respectively, these leave only one or two fruiting canes with about eight to 10 buds each, ready to produce the grapes for the coming season.
So, in the coming weeks, spare a thought for the winegrowers of the Northern Hemisphere who are impatiently waiting for the dangers of the frosts to pass.
Richard Esling is a wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. He runs the agency and consultancy WineWyse, is founder and director of the Sussex Wine Academy and is president of the Arundel Wine Society.