Annual Life Cycle of the Grape Vine

Tuesday, March 13th, 2007 at 12:00 am

grape vineThis is a rough outline of what a common year in a vineyard in France is like. It’s important to remember that in the southern Hemisphere where the countries of Australia, South Africa and Chile reside, the harvest time is during the months of February and March which is also when autumn comes.


This month sees the vineyard mostly frozen. It is the time when winter pruning begins in order to stimulate growth and stem vigor. In most areas of France, the winter pruning occurs during the 22nd day of January which is St. Vincent’s Day.


What pruning that started in the previous month is continued this month but stops before the budbreak in order to give enough time for the "wounds" on the vine to regenerate. The stems that are pruned and cut are added and grafted onto rootstocks in order to be planted during spring the following year. It is also the time that the vineyard machinery is checked and serviced for optimum performance for next month.


Pruning finishes and the spreading of fertilizers and grafting is continued. The soil of the vineyard is ploughed in order to aerate the vines. In some warmer regions, there is some budbreak that occurs.


This is when the time that the earth is removed from the base of the vines. The cuttings from the previous year are now planted. There are new shoots that develop from the vine. Canes are held down by wires and in the colder climates, such as Champagne, heaters are employed in order to prevent frost from destroying the crop.


Frost is still a threat to some crops but there is an active growth of new shoots. There are new plantings and the maintenance of the shoots are continued.


The vine now starts to flower and the process of maintaining the shoots and the insects using pesticide continues. If the temperature is ideal, which is about 18-20 degrees Celsius, the flowering will be complete in 10 days.


Pruning is done to take out excess foliage and to expose the flower sets. This is the time that berries may have formed, thus maintenance is very important.


The berries now start to change color. Weeding continues but the spraying is stopped. Netting is sometimes necessary to keep away the birds.


The colors of the grapes deepen, the acidity levels drop and the sugar levels in the grapes now increase. The grapes continue to ripen at this stage. Sugar levels are checked using a refractometer. Some early ripening varieties are harvested.


Late ripening varieties are harvested using hand-picking as the best type of harvesting. This is for minimal damage to the clusters and so that better selection of bunches is possible.


Some soil is used to cover the base of the vines to protect against the incoming frost. Fertilizers and manure are spread.


This is what is considered to be the rest month for the vineyard and also becomes an opportunity to taste the new vintage. Whatever soil that has been washed away by the rain before is put back to keep the vine base covered.


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