How ripe and how healthy are the grapes? The answers to these questions are decisive for the quality of the wine we can make. So we focus on achieving ripe, healthy grapes, with a yearly calendar driven by that goal.
Our year begins with pruning. Every winter, each vine is pruned back to a single two-year-old shoot. From this shoot, the new sprouts will emerge that bear the grape bunches. We prune the shoot to a length determined by the number of buds, so as to limit the number of grape bunches.
A grape vine is a climbing plant, driven to climb. If you leave a vine alone, the top buds will produce the most growth. But we need each grape bunch to be equally ripe, so we bend the old year’s growth to the horizontal, ensuring this rough standardization in ripeness, at a convenient working height for plant care and harvesting.
Like a tomato plant, a vine will produce new shoots even from old wood. But we need the grapes that are intended for harvesting to contain a maximum concentration of metabolic and mineral substances. To achieve this, we remove side shoots throughout the growing season.
The plants that grow between the vine rows have a role in influencing soil fertility and soil texture. Clover plays a part in loosening the soil and storing (‘fixing’) atmospheric nitrogen. Over the course of the year, we mow the clover and sometimes dig the entire crop back into the ground, so as to make these minerals available to the vines. Directly at the root of the vine, we want as little competing growth as possible, especially to ease access to rain water. This is achieved by targeted ploughing.
We want the vine to sprout upwards and not sideways into the corridors between the vine rows. So we tuck the new wood regularly in between the wires, and avoid breaking the soft plant fibres as we drive through on tractors or other equipment.
New shoots and new leaves are part of what a vine does in the summer. But we want the vine’s efforts to go into grape ripeness and health. So we trim back the new growth, like a hedge; and this has the additional advantage of freeing the corridors from leaf and branch growth.
We manage yields downwards, manually, in accordance with our quality goals. The fewer grapes are allowed to grow on a given vine, the tastier they – and the resulting wine – will be. So we split or remove entire bunches as the growing season continues.
All our grapes are harvested by hand, as the human eye remains one of the most sensitive instruments we have for distinguishing between grades of ripeness and health.