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Lifecycle of a Grapevine

Great wines come from great grapes. Maintaining the health of the vines is crucial when growing organic grapes. Let’s take a look at the lifecycle of a grapevine to see what goes on in the vineyard throughout the year.

Grapevine Basics

A grapevine is an example of a perennial plant; one that grows or blooms over the spring and summer, dies back during the autumn and winter months, and then repeats the cycle from its rootstock the following spring. Without human intervention, grapevines will naturally grow into a bushy-tree-like mess of leaves and branches. Meticulous pruning and training help the vines stay nice and organized, and focus their energy on growing impeccable grapes. This is particularly important when growing organically.

During the first few years of a vine’s life, the growth of the permanent wood (trunk) and building a solid root system is the name of the game. In order to do this, there are many different types of TLC that are carried out…

The Lifecycle of a Grapevine

winter pruning
Winter pruning

One of the most expensive and most important activities in the vineyard (besides harvest) is winter pruning. The prior year’s canes are cut back and the pruner chooses the best canes to grow new shoots for the coming year’s harvest. The pruning system used is determined during the vineyard design, but it is possible to change the way vines are trained from season to season if vigour (over or under production) is an issue.

Bud break – Chardonnay
Bud break – Petit Verdot

During September/October the first signs of life occur, sap rises up and the buds begin to break. The buds are extremely delicate during this time.

spring buds
Spring shoots

After the buds break in early spring, they continue to grow. Some viticulturists prune the downward facing shoots to ensure that all the shoots grow upward and to reduce the potential crop size. This strategy involves reducing quantity to increase quality because vines that produce limited numbers of grapes produce more concentrated grapes.

spring growth

The flowers of grapevines are called perfect flowers: they pollinate themselves without the need of bees.

lifting wires
Wire lifting

Wires are lifted throughout spring to support the rapid growth of the delicate shoots.

young clusters
Pinot Blanc in December

In November and December, young clusters begin to appear. These clusters will eventually become berry bunches.

Veraison

In mid to late summer, the green berries start to change color and ripen. This time period is called vérasion (“verre-ray-shun”) and it’s the most beautiful time of the year in a vineyard when the berries change colors from a vegetal green to yellow, pink, red or purple. Just before vérasion begins, some wine growers do green harvesting, wherein a little excess weight is removed from the vines (the superficial grape bunches) so that the vines can focus their energy on quality over quantity.

harvesting grapes
Harvest

The wood continues to ripen over the course of the summer, turning brown and hardening (e.g. vines lignify). In tandem with wood growth, the grapes continue to ripen and sugar levels rise. Harvest usually occurs around March/April when the grapes are in the proverbial “sweet spot.” Harvest time is a crucial moment when the grapes reach their perfect ripeness. Viticulturists and harvesters work around the clock to pick the grapes in time. Some are hand-picked and some are machine-harvested.

Autumn colour change

In the late fall, the vine has stopped producing carbohydrates from the chlorophyll in the leaves. The leaves then lose their color and fall to the ground. Winter pruning begins.

Winter in the vineyard

From May onward, winter returns, foliage dies off, vines are trimmed and pruned, and the cycle begins once again.

Adapted from article originally published on winefolly.com 30 March 2017. All pictures are our own.

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