Millesima presents Millesima Tips, a series of educational articles that will delve into various topics related to the world of wine: from tasting, to how to store & serve wines and wine-making techniques. The first edition will reveal the mysteries of the vine cycle. From the dormant period to the harvest and everything in between.
The awakening of the vines
Wine’s history begins with the vine, and more specifically, the plant species known as vitis vinifera. Through various techniques, the fruit from the vines is manipulated and transformed into wine. Each plant is cultivated with care, planted on soil that highlights certain characteristics, and using techniques that are tailored to the specific grape varietal.
The vine cycle can change slightly each year. However, the stages of maturation and growth are always the same. Depending on the weather conditions in a given year, the stages might occur earlier or later than expected. A vintage may be considered better than others, given the weather conditions that influence the maturation stages. The five stages of the vine cycle are bud burst, flowering, veraison, maturation and the dormancy. In the winter, buds are covered by two protective brown scales. When sap rises and forms droplets at the end of pruned branches, we observe the “weeping” of the vines. This marks the beginning of the new vintage. Bud burst, or bud break, is the beginning of a grape’s life cycle.
Groups of tiny flowers began to sprout from the buds, signaling the beginning of the flowering stage. Flowering typically occurs in the spring. This is a very important stage of growth, seeing as the flowers are quite sensitive to dangerous weather conditions like hail, frost & cold temperatures. Several different techniques are used to combat dangerous weather, such as burning hay, using helicopters to circulate air and protective nets. Each flower can potentially become a grape. This stage lasts for 2 months, on average.
After the flowering stage, canopy management is an essential step of ensuring the grapes develop healthily. It is a series of decisions that are taken to ensure the ideal balance of sunlight, shade and air circulation that allows the grapes to fully ripen. Different techniques include leaf removal, shoot positioning and shoot thinning.
Veraison is the stage when the grapes change colors, and here you can distinguish the difference between red and white grape varietals. This lovely time is why mid to late summer is the best season to visit vineyards. In the grapes, chlorophyll is being replaced by anthocyannins (concerning red grapes) and carotenoids (white grapes). This process does not happen homogeneously, which is what makes this stage so fascinating. Grapes that experience more warmth and sunlight, change first.
The penultimate stage of the cycle is maturation. During this stage, the sugars in the grape are increasing and the acidity begins to fall. These sugars are necessary for the chemical reaction that creates alcohol in the wine making process.
Harvest and recovery
These are the last few moments that grapes are on the vine before harvest. After harvest occurs, the vines remain dormant throughout the winter season. Winemakers prune the vines throughout the winter. Pruning is a wine-growing technique that guides the next year’s vine growth. The pruning determines the shape of the vine, so each grape varietal and even different plots will use different pruning techniques that are adapted to its soil, climate, and even age of the vine.