Winter in the Vineyard: What the Vines Aren’t Showing You

When you take a look at a vineyard in the wintertime, it’s easy to think that the vines have gone dormant.

Not so.

The grape bunches have been harvested and crushed, and the juice has been fermented into wine. The red, orange and yellow leaves have fallen to the ground. Only the vine’s trunk and canes remain within view.

And so those vines will remain for a few months.

But they are not dormant. Below ground, their energy has been redirected from producing new leaf growth or fruit to the root system.

Although not seen, this is a critical time for the vine because the roots are soaking up nutrients from the soil, growing and preparing for the spring.  Although most of the attention goes to the fall harvest season, it’s actually during spring — when new shoots emerge on the vines — that the potential volume of the harvest is determined.

To get ready for that part of the growing cycle, those who tend the vineyards use the winter months to cut back canes from the previous season and select the canes from which shoots will grow when bud break arrives in spring.

It’s something of a balancing act because a vine can comfortably handle only a certain amount of growth before the quality of the fruit is impacted. Generally speaking, the less fruit a vine produces, the more intense and complex it will be. That said, the vine still needs to produce enough fruit so an appropriate amount of wine can be made.

Fortunately, through trial and error as well as scientific advancements, vineyard managers are able to walk that fine line with consistently good results.

So the next time you drive by a vineyard that seems to be dormant during the wintertime, know that there’s a lot going on with the vines that you can’t see.

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