How many times I am asked the question: “Except the harvest period, is there anything else to do in the cellar?”
And every time I go with my “Yes” a little smug smile.
“Colpo di Vino” blog recounts the work of a winery from January to December, focusing especially on the vineyard.. Enjoy the reading.
On 22 January, the feast day of San Vincenzo (patron saint of winemakers) is traditionally the symbolic date of the official beginning of the workings of the vineyard. In reality, these operations can begin as early as December 15 and end in March.
March: tillage of the land
The vine, passed the winter and prepared by pruning, reacts with its “crying” (colorless and rich in mineral substances and hormones) to the effects of the spring sun which, heating the soil, pushes the sleeping sap towards the ends of the stump; for a few days, in a vital drop by drop, pruning cuts exude this sap until they completely heal. The whole circulatory system of the plant at this point is under pressure, allowing the buds to open: it is the phase of budding, which marks the beginning of a new annual cycle. However, in this period, the young shoots are very rich in water and spring frosts can be fatal. During the spring rebirth, the winemaker proceeds to the first “tillage of the land”; it moves the clods of earth closed on themselves from the previous autumn, which causes the soil to heat up further and consequently the roots. Thus a good aeration of the earth is obtained which favors the regrowth of the roots and the entire life of the soil is reactivated. Furthermore, this first processing destroys the weeds grown between the rows. We will continue to work the land throughout the cycle, according to the rhythm of the growth of herbaceous plants and the necessary maintenance of a good circulation of air and rainwater towards the deep layers of the soil and the roots. Furthermore, by destroying any superficial roots that may have developed, the winemaker ensures that, by compensation, the roots of the deepest vines develop; these in fact sink into the soil allowing a better water supply to the plant in the case of summer drought and an optimal absorption of the nutritive substances characteristic of the composition of the soil, able to favor a better expression of the typicality of the territory.
April: the piling
In order to ensure better exposure of the foliage to sunlight, we try to distribute the leaves along a vertical surface: this is achieved by guiding the shoots along metal wires stretched between the poles of the rows. These interventions will accompany the growth of the vine following its rhythm thanks to the addition of overlapping successive threads which will finally ensure the desired distribution.
May: shielding of the vineyard
To avoid the proliferation of herbaceous plants, a second series of surface works on the ground is carried out in May. It also proceeds to spray the vine with products intended to protect the plants from diseases and parasites. Depending on the pruning practiced and the vegetative conditions of the year, other gems may develop on all or part of the stumps in addition to those voluntarily spared from pruning. This eliminates the “suckers”, twigs that sprout on the stem and that due to their disposition absorb a considerable quantity of sap to damage the other branches, cut the shoots of the roots and practice the “scacchiatura”, that is the removal of the non-uvrig sprouts.
June: gathering and leafing
For the espalier-trained vines, the winegrower proceeds to “accollamento”, that is he binds the young branches to the rows. Being a plant with continuous growth the vine does not cease to develop; the vegetation can then thicken rapidly, be invasive and disturb the subsequent processing, causing excessive accumulation of the vegetation, which prevents the optimal maturation of the grapes. To ensure that the vegetation remains within the desired limits in terms of height and thickness, the operations of peeling or topping of the branches are carried out which vary in number according to their growth rate.
July-August: thinning and pesticide treatments
After flowering it is possible to evaluate the number and distribution of the bunches on the stocks; if nature has been too generous or if some previous cultivation practices have led to an increase in the fertility of the strains, the number of bunches can be excessive and their distribution unfavorable to good maturation. We will then proceed to a “thinning out”, an operation that requires a lot of care, consisting in removing the bunches during the summer – before ripening – so that the number and distribution of the most resistant are compatible with the level of maturation desired. In August, soil operations are generally interrupted by slowing down the growth of adventitious plants. But the control of the vineyard remains indispensable and until September screening may be necessary if there are risks of disease.
September-October: the harvest
The sum of these works, whose dates and frequency vary each year depending on the climate, the place of cultivation and the growth of the vine, finds its crowning in the harvest, the ultimate goal of all the operations carried out in the vineyard and act of birth of a new product: wine. At the beginning of September, the winegrower will examine the level of ripeness with the regular withdrawal of the grapes to fix the date of harvest. In order to perfect the maturation, a few weeks after the possible harvest date, the leaves around the bunches will be eliminated to improve their airing and exposure. In the Mediterranean regions the harvest can start from the end of August; however, in most cases, it takes place from mid-September until around mid-October and beyond.
November-December: pruning and earthing up
The vine begins to lose its leaves at the beginning of autumn) between November and December, and enters a phase of winter rest. The winemaker cuts the long branches and ties up the stocks to protect them from the cold and favor the flow of rainwater during the winter. In this way, the cycle of wine production is concluded; with the new year and the resumption of pruning work, a new wine year or “campaign” will begin.
I am usually not as detailed but, at least, I can make clearer ideas and I hope that this article has also helped you to identify yourself with the countless efforts of the winemakers.