A Year in the Life of a Vine
The grape starts its annual growth cycle in the spring with bud break. Tiny buds on the vine start to swell and eventually shoots begin to grow from the buds. Buds are the small part of the vine that rest between the vine’s stem and the leaf stem. Depending on temperatures, 40–80 days after bud break the process of flowering begins with small flower clusters appearing on the tips of the young shoots. The stage of fruit set follows flowering almost immediately, when the fertilized flower begins to develop a seed and grape berry to protect the seed. Leaves well exposed to sunlight during this time will result in more fruitful buds during the growing season.
Work in the vineyards during this time is focused on the upcoming growing season. Vines are assessed for winter damage and trellis systems are repaired. Insects and fungus growth are treated sustainably using beneficial insects and cover crop (the grasses & mustard that grow between the vines) to attract and house them.
Following fruit set, the grape berries are green and hard to the touch. They have very little sugar and are high in organic acids. They begin to grow to about half their final size when they enter the stage of veraison. This stage signals the beginning of the ripening process and normally takes place around 40–50 days after fruit set. During this stage the colors of the grape take form-red/black or yellow/green depending on the grape varieties.
Sustainable farmers water their vines using drip systems during this time. Drip lines can supply vines with just the right amount of water they need and in the right location to help focus energy into producing grape clusters, not excess leaves or vegetation. This results in more concentrated, higher-quality fruit. Vine canopy management is utilized to remove excess leaves and expose the grape clusters to sunlight and air.
In the vineyard, the most exciting event is the harvest in which the grapes are removed from the vine and transported to the winery to begin the wine making process. The time of harvest depends on a variety of factors-most notably the determination of ripeness. As the grape ripens on the vines, sugars and pH increase as acids decrease. Daily monitoring of the vineyards occurs until the peak ripeness is achieved.
Most winegrowers choose to harvest their vineyards at night. Harvesting grapes at night and in the very early morning keeps grapes cooler, reducing the need for energy-intensive refrigeration at the winery. It also keeps vineyard workers from having to pick in the heat of the day. Hand picking is the preferred method because the grape clusters need to be handled with care. Once the grapes arrive at the winery, they are sorted, destemmed and ready to be made into wine.
After the first frost the leaves begin to fall as the vine starts to enter its winter dormancy period. During the first stages of dormancy, the roots of the vine takes up nutrients to store as energy, needed for the developing shoots in early spring, the following season. This dormant state will continue until daylight hours and temperatures increase in spring, when axial buds that were formed before dormancy become activated to break.
Just because the grapes are harvested and the vines are dormant, doesn’t mean that all the work in the vineyard is done. This is the time of the year when the grape vines need to be pruned. Pruning and training are performed in order to optimize the production potential of the grape vine. Even more, pruning and training helps develop a structure that will aid the utilization of sunlight and help adapt to the characteristics of a particular grape variety. This helps maintain economical and efficient vineyard practices throughout the next growing season.