We spend a lot of time in the tasting room talking about the vineyards and the vines. And for good reason. Without the vines, there would be no grapes. And without the grapes, no wine….you get the picture. One of the things that came up today as we watched the vineyard crews do weed control was how many times the grape vines are touched throughout the year. The average is about 7-10 times that the vines are in contact with human hands or tractors during the growing season.
It all starts with pruning in the late winter. Well, actually, it starts with pre-pruning. Pre-pruning occurs with a tractor that cuts through the upper layers of the previous year’s shoots, making it easier for the workers doing the actual pruning process by hand. This is key as it sets up the vine for successful growth. Then, with many vines there is shoot positioning. When the vine grows enough, the new shoots need to be positioned between the wires for optimal sun exposure encouraging lots of photosynthesis.
But wait! If there’s too much growth there will be hedging. A tractor with a specialized attachment will drive up and down the rows cutting off the top of the vines to ensure there isn’t too much photosynthesis. Then, in some vineyards there is ‘manual’ weed control that happens. Weeds that grow between the vines can be really detrimental. They suck up water and nutrients from the soil, making the vines work too hard. It’s very important to control the weeds one way or another.
During cooler years, there could be a pass through the vineyard with a machine that will carve away the grape leaves protecting the clusters. This would allow the grapes to receive direct sunlight to help move along the growing process. In addition, if it’s a wet year, there will need to be several passes through the vineyard with a sulfur dusting machine. Sulfur is used in the vineyards to combat mold and mildew.
At some point as the sugar levels in the grapes rise and there is berry sampling that occurs. The winemaker / vineyard manager will literally pick berries from the clusters to monitor how everything is coming along. If birds are an issue, there may be some netting that needs to be draped over the grapes to protect them. Birds can literally eat through a crop if given the opportunity.
When the time is right, the orders are given to pick. Picking is primarily done by hand here. There aren’t a lot of vineyards using a mechanical harvester. Then, all the focus turns to the winery and the cellar for fermentation, pumping and barreling just to start in the vineyard all over again next winter.
Wow! That’s a lot of work. It’s amazing that wine is as affordable as it is. I don’t know of any other alcoholic beverage that goes through as many steps as wine. And this is just the growing process. There’s so much more that happens in the cellar. But that’s another post.