Once the grape harvest is over, the wondrous grape vine has given its best. Now the vineyard deserves some recovery time to prepare for next year’s vintage. Have you ever wondered how vineyard managers prepare for winter?
The term “winter” can have a range of meanings, depending on locale. In Northern California, winter means high temperatures in the 60’s and lows in the 30’s and 40’s. France has colder winters, with (gasp) snow falling on the vines at times. Other wine regions falls somewhere on this spectrum. Protecting fragile grapevines from the ravages of cold and wet weather is crucial to preserving the vineyard.
The roots of the vine can be protected by mounding soil around the base of the vine. Sometimes mulch, straw, wood chips or compost can be added to the soil for additional bulk and insulation. The mounds are removed once the threat of freezing has past.
Additional protection from cold weather uses strategies commensurate with the degree of cold. Mild cold snaps can be mitigated by maintaining air flow through the vineyard. This is usually done with large electric fans mounted at the end of the rows. Temperatures significantly below freezing require stronger measures, usually draping the vines with plastic sheeting. Nights like that can make being a vineyard manager extremely stressful.
In late winter, the vines receive a careful and dramatic pruning of the canes. This pruning removes nearly all of the branches of the vine, leaving only the one or two primary horizontal branches. These major branches will be the basis for next year’s buds and resulting vertical shoots.
Properly tended, the vineyard will exit dormancy in the spring, delivering another season of the lovely grapes that make us all so happy. Here’s to wishing all the vineyards a restful and restorative winter!
About the Author: John grills a mean steak and is always in the market for another wine fridge. Believes that if a winery has more than 10 employees, it's probably too big. Buys wine faster than he drinks it, but who cares?