A Step-By-Step Look at the Grapevine Growth Cycle

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One thing is clear: the success of a wine largely depends on the quality of its vintage. The secret lies in caring for the vineyard meticulously and keeping constant watch over each and every stage of the grapevine’s growth cycle. This is a long process that requires a variety of professionals and resources. Here at Jean Leon, we would like to share with you the 7 stages that end up bringing pleasure to your palate.

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April-May: Flowering (growth stage)

The vine’s first buds appear in April. With the arrival of spring, the mature wood of the vine begins to show the first hints of green. This is when the buds break and a few timid green shoots start dotting the vine. During this stage, the winegrower will finish pruning the vine (canopy management) and carry out the first preventive treatments to combat grapevine pests and diseases. It is also a good idea to keep clearing any unwanted weeds from the vineyards.

June: Fruit set (growth stage)

Temperatures normally begin to rise in June, and the flowers open up to invite pollination. During this stage (which usually lasts about two weeks, until June 24th or thereabouts), good weather is of utmost importance, because torrential rains could ruin the entire harvest. If necessary, winegrowers will keep applying phytosanitary treatments during this part of the flowering stage.

July-August: Shoot tipping and veraison (ripening stage)

The berries need to ripen during the summer. The winegrower doesn’t touch the grapes much, letting them ripen while ensuring that they are developing properly. At this time, the winegrower also makes his or her initial estimate as to the crop production of the upcoming harvest. The moment when the grape berries lose their green color and turn deep red (in red varieties) or pale yellow (in white varieties) is known as veraison.

In order to control grapevine yields (if vigor wasn’t controlled effectively or there is fruit shading), the winegrower will do another round of shoot tipping and select the best-quality grapes. He or she will remove whole clusters from the vine and let them drop to the ground where they provide a natural form of fertilizer.

September-October: Harvest (ripening stage)

In order to decide when the grapes are ready for picking, the enologist analyzes and samples them every day to see if they have reached the desired sugar and acidity levels. If pests and diseases have been managed properly throughout the vegetative cycle, the vines shouldn’t experience any phytosanitary problems at this stage. The main concern at harvest time is BOTRYTIS. This fungal infection causes grapes to rot under rain-induced humidity. When weather conditions are difficult, winegrowers must pay close attention and, should botrytis set in, harvest the grapes as quickly as possible.

Once the green light is given, the harvest can officially begin. This is a very labor-intensive process, especially when grapes are handpicked, which requires a big team of pickers. They are responsible for transporting the grapes to the hoppers—the metal grape reception containers located at the entrance to the winery—so that the winemaking process can begin: destemming, pressing (prior to fermentation for whites and rosés; after fermentation for reds), pumping over (reds), fermentation, aging (for oak-aged wines), pre-bottling treatments and, finally, bottling.

In another post we’ll go into greater detail on the specific process involved in making white, rosé and red wines, because each type of wine has its own particular winemaking characteristics.

November-December: Leaf fall (dormant stage)

In parallel to the work in the winery, pruning once again picks up in the vineyard, right when the vines’ leaves begin to turn with the arrival of autumn. Pruning tasks continue over the course of the next few months. The plant also receives organic, animal-based fertilizer (compost) to ensure successful dormancy, and winegrowers apply sulfur treatments to combat downy mildew spores.

January-February: Pruning and planting (dormant stage)

During the winter, the vineyard offers up an image of row upon row of bare trunks. The grapevines don’t have any leaves, because it is the only way they can survive the low temperatures and adverse weather conditions. During this period, the grapevine is a naked trunk without buds or vegetative growth.

The vines are pruned throughout the winter months to prepare them for shoot and fruit growth once spring arrives. This stage is crucial in ensuring fruit quality, because every vine requires individual care. In late February, winegrowers also begin planting new vines.

March-April: Inflorescence (growth stage)

Like most good stories, the grapevine’s growth cycle begins with hard and unforgiving work. In March the vines are still dormant, but toward the middle of the month, the sap begins to stir in early budding varieties. In early April, the winegrower clears weeds from the vineyard, ties up the canes and chooses those that will grow to produce new shoots and clusters.

As you can see, behind every bottle of wine is a long and labor-intensive process of vineyard work that goes far beyond the well-known pruning and harvest stages. This process continues—equally painstaking and rigorous—once the grapes reach the winery to guarantee wines of outstanding quality and personality. Knowing what goes into making a glass of wine enhances our appreciation and enjoyment of this fine drink.

Here’s to wine! Cheers!

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