A winemaker’s diary

March/April/May

I have been asked by the good folk at the Herault Times to give a seasonal account of what a winemaker/Vigneron actually does throughout the year when he’s not clogging up the traffic bumping along on his tractor at 15km/h on busy roads.

March sees the race to finish the pruning which has been on-going since mid November of the previous year.  At Domaine des Trinités we have approximately 25 hectares of vine, with in total about 100,000 vines to prune in about 4 months. A colossal, repetitive but probably the single most important task of the year. The way in which the vine is pruned will have a profound effect on not only the yield, but also on the timing of bud burst, the shape of the leaf canopy, bunch position and the overall macro-climate within the canopy itself. These factors alone along with the years weather have a huge impact on the quantity and most importantly the quality of the fruit we will harvest that year.

By the end of March, before the arrival of the delicate buds that can easily be damaged whilst pruning, this marathon should be over. So having made perhaps 1 or 2 million cuts with your lethally sharp electronic secateurs, you’d think that it was perhaps time to kick back and celebrate that the pruning is over for the year and that you have again emerged with all 10 digits intact. Well no, the race is now really on as silly season is truly underway.

By April the sap is rising fast, the buds are swelling if not already opening and nature throughout the vineyard is waking up with the vigour and enthusiasm of my eight year old on Christmas day. Time to service your tractor and contemplate the tasks that need to be done and the order they must be addressed. The vine cuttings lying between the rows will need to be collected and burnt or mulched in to the soil, fertilizer, in our case, manure must be spread, ploughing to integrate the manure and control the weeds must then follow. All this time of course, the vine shoots  will be growing fast and at the mercy of the Vigneron’s  2 greatest nemeses, powdery (oidium) and downy mildew. As a natural wine domaine that means the organic treatments of sulphur and copper (bouille bordelais) must be sprayed before any primary infection can take hold. So on the few still, fine days at this time of year you will see the vineyards full of tractors racing to protect the vines before the next rains or windy days arrive.

April rolls inexorably into May, when the ploughing, spraying and perhaps mowing continue to try and check the voracious growing season and keep a modicum of control in the vineyard. Add to that the need to shape the ever expanding canopy by making sure the wires are dropped in the trellised vineyards to later lift to gather in the shoots. Also the removal of unwanted shoots and buds in order to  thin the canopy, to further control the yield and allow light penetration is vital and most agonisingly of all, the complete removal of the water shoots that tend to sprout from the trunk at ground level. Ouch! If your friendly local Vigneron asks you if you may like to help out with a bit of the charmingly labeled ” bud-rubbing” or “debourgeonner”, don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Next time I’ll discuss what we get up to in the summer months in the run up to the harvest, which does not include relaxing by the pool I regret to say!