26.2 C
Niagara Falls
Thursday, June 13, 2024
Wine Thang: Life cycle of the vine

Each week, the staff of Ravine Winery share their expertise and offer a brief explanation about an aspect of wine. So, whether you’re an expert oenophile or a newbie just finding your way around wine country, we trust you’ll enjoy. Cheers!

There is no rest in wine country for our vines or our winemakers. So the next time you enjoy a glass of your favourite vintage, think of the year the grapes had with Mother Nature and then moving into the hands of the winemaker and, finally, to you, so you can enjoy the fruits of their labour.

When winter is coming

Once the fall harvest is over, growers get the vines ready for winter. Vines are “hilled” with soil to insulate and protect them from harsh temperatures. Vineyard workers also create a sort of trench so excess water drains away from the vines as too much water can kill them.

The key now is to hope for a winter that is not too harsh because at -22C vines will die. The wind machines in Niagara help circulate the air and move warmer temperatures down into the vineyard.

March to May: Pruning and bud break

When it seems the extreme cold of winter has passed, pruning starts to get the vines ready for the growing season. As the temperatures get milder and sap starts to flow in the vines, pruning gets the vines ready for bud break.

Depending on where the vineyard is in the Niagara area, timing of bud break can vary. In Niagara, that usually means mid-May.

You may notice that the soil gets turned in most vineyards. This is to help bring oxygen into the earth to enhance the upcoming rapid growth period.

June: Flowering

You will see rapid growth in June. If you look closely at the vines in mid-June you will notice little clusters of what looks like tiny grapes. They will actually become flowers soon (when we get enough heat and sun). These flowers will eventually lead to fruit set. Vines are self-pollinating and don’t need bees to make that magic happen.

July: Fruit Set

As flowering finishes, green fruit appears (just like apples/pears). At this time the fruit clusters are being watched for good health and growers may remove some bunches to promote better quality in other fruit. 

August: Getting ready for Veraison 

Grapes become enlarged and develop sugars in August. This is also time to get ready for Veraison, (when the grapes turn colour and start maturing) which typically happens later in August. Growers will often cut back the leaves at this time to expose the grapes to more sun and wind to keep them dry (preventing fungus, etc.). All grapes start out green, however, as Veraison continues, white varietals become translucent green, with varying degrees of yellow and gold, while red varietals develop different shades of red to dark blue to black, depending on the grape.

September: Maturation and maybe an early harvest for sparkling

Fall is hugely important to growers. Starting with September, it is all about increasing the sugars and the development of flavour in the grapes. Warm and dry is the ideal weather at this time, as most of September winemakers are getting ready for harvest. Grapes used for sparkling wine are usually harvested first.

October/November: The harvest

This is the time of year our winemakers are testing the grapes to get that ideal chemistry of sugar and acid that indicates it is time for harvest. White varietals are harvested first and Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon are usually harvested last. Icewine grapes are kept on the vine and protected with nets to prevent birds from eating them. They are harvested anytime from December to March.

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