High quality wines are made with high quality grapes. This means that the magic must start in the vineyard.
Like all living things, the vine is born, it grows, it reproduces and dies… but part of the magic is that the vine doesn’t die completely; it is capable of being reborn every year. The biological cycle is repeated in all vineyards across the world, although not all at the same time, as the seasons in the Southern Hemisphere are the reverse of those in the Northern Hemisphere.
And there’s a science to the cycle. Science… and art. To be specific, viticulture is the branch of knowledge that deals with knowledge and techniques surrounding the cultivation of vines and the vine grower is the person that takes care of this special work.
So today we are going to tell you about the seven phases that the vine goes through each year and why they are so important in obtaining the best raw material to produce the best wines.
March – April in the Northern Hemisphere
September – October in the Southern Hemisphere
After the hard winter, spring arrives and with it, the vineyards are reborn.
The vine cycle starts when temperatures rise above 10 degrees, which usually occurs at the end of March or beginning of April. At this moment the roots recover their capacity to absorb nutrients and the sap (the vine’s “blood”), starts to rise through the plant’s sap conducting vessels (its “veins”).
The first signs of life start to appear on the bare branches: the buds from which the shoots will grow. Exciting, isn’t it? This is also the time that the first threat to the vines could occur: spring frosts.
April – May in the Northern Hemisphere
October – November in the Southern Hemisphere
Leaves appear on the vines between the months of April and May. If we spoke before about “blood” now we should speak about “lungs” as the leaves are responsible for carrying out the essential functions of transpiration, respiration and photosynthesis. At this time of year the vine needs plenty of water and nutrients.
May – June in the Northern Hemisphere
November – December in the Southern Hemisphere
Between the month of May and the beginning of June the embryonic flowers or inflorescences start to appear. Shortly afterwards, they open and are pollinized.
Have you ever see a vine’s flowers before? They are white and very tiny. These flowers are hermaphrodites, meaning that you find both male and feminine reproductive organs (stamens and pistils) in the same flower. Thanks to this, they are easily pollinized with the help of the wind and insects. Ideally, during this period the vine receives many hours of sunshine, warm temperatures and little rainfall.
June – July in the Northern Hemisphere
December – January in the Southern Hemisphere
After pollination, the flowers give way to small fruits that start to appear between the end of June and the beginning of July. They are very green (due to the high concentration of chlorophyll) and small, the size of a pea. If you were brave enough to taste one you would find it extremely acidic.
July – August in the Northern Hemisphere
January – February in the Southern Hemisphere
Veraison or “envero” in Spanish is the colour that grapes (and other fruits) turn as they start to ripen. Therefore, the phase in which this happens in the vines is also given this name and it takes place throughout the summer.
Before veraison occurs, you can’t normally tell if a bunch of grapes is a white or black variety as they are all green and hard. When it happens, the white grapes start to turn a yellowish gold colour and the black grapes turn a sort of red and then purple. Veraison marks the moment when the grapes start to ripen.
August – September in the Northern Hemisphere
February – March in the Southern Hemisphere
The fruit continues to ripen during the months of August and September until the time of harvest. The grape gradually increases in size thanks to the increased water and nutrients and, at the same time, loses acidity and gets sweeter: as you know, the sugar will determine the alcoholic content of the wine. Colour pigments and flavour compounds also accumulate during this period and the tannins develop. Warm weather and sunny days are ideal.
In certain cases, some producers may decide to carry out a green harvest in order to control the yields and improve the quality of the fruit.
September – October in the Northern Hemisphere
March – April in the Southern Hemisphere
Ideally the harvest should occur in dry conditions. Deciding when the grapes have reached the ideal level of maturity and, therefore, when it is time to pick them, is a vital decision that depends on various factors: the type of grape, the desired style of wine, the weather conditions…
The rest period.
December – March in the Northern Hemisphere
July – September in the Southern Hemisphere
We all need to rest from time to time and vines are no different. After harvest, comes the dormant period; the vine sleeps during the autumn and winter (four or five months). This rest period is vital for allowing it to thrive during the next season.
What happens while the vine “hibernates”? During the coldest months, the wood of the vine hardens and the sap accumulates in the trunk and roots, the leaves get darker and drop off… And after a few months… it starts all over again!
As you can see, things are happening in the vineyards throughout the whole year, which means that we have our team on hand to look after them, care for them and optimize the whole process during all twelve months. In the next post we will talk about all the different tasks that take place in the vineyards that supply us with the grapes to make our wines.