We often talk about balance when describing a given wine.
Balance is achieved when all of the major elements — tannins, acidity, fruit impressions, the alcohol level, etc. — exist in harmony.
Like so many aspects of great wine, that balance actually begins in the vineyard with a well-balanced grapevine. And December is the month when the work takes place to ensure that balance.
Most Decembers, the temperatures are cold and the vineyards are wet from winter rainfall. In some vineyards, a second dormant spray is applied. It’s also a great time to clean the tractors and to make any repairs needed before storing them for the next season.
As the cover crops begin to grow, creating a soft green carpet in the vineyard, the cool temperatures and limited sunlight coax the vines into their annual period of dormancy. But there is still important work to be done.
Around the time of the first major freeze, some of the most exacting vineyard work of the entire year is undertaken: pruning.
Pruning is labor intensive and requires great skill. Some of the (mostly) men who prune the vines have been doing it for decades, and much like an apprentice system, pass their skills and “secrets” on to younger generations.
Every cut that’s made during the pruning process will impact the vine for years to come. The goal is to create a balanced — there’s that word — vine that will produce the best ratio of cane, leaf and fruit in the new year ahead.
That balance will contribute greatly to the growth of premium-quality grapes, the key to premium-quality wines.
So even though we think of December as a time of dormancy in the vineyard, it’s actually a month of extremely important activity.