The first quarter of 2017 is underway. Let’s see what wineries are up to…
Vines are currently in the dormant stage in vineyards across California. Vineyard managers are planning their pruning strategy, which is the most important operation of the year. Only skilled workers with sharp pruning shears are in charge of this task.
Based on the style of vine pruning (cordon pruning or cane pruning) this operation is done manually in many cases. However, mechanically pre-cut vines are easier to handle during the secondary manual pass through the vineyards.
Pruning will determine the crop for this season and the next season. Precise cuts made on the spurs and the canes will dictate the following two consecutive grape productions.
Pruning keeps vines healthy by getting rid of dead, diseased or damaged wood. It also facilitates steady grape production over several decades.
Spurs or Cordon Pruning (Left) Cane Pruning (Right)
Pruning maintains open spaces between the spurs which provides the dry and sunny conditions needed for the grapes to ripen.
Each cane is pruned back between 24 to 36 inches, based on the vigor of the vine. The goal is to leave 6 to 10 well placed buds on each cane for fruit and wood production. More important than the number of canes is the quality. Medium diameter, round, well-browned canes with buds that have 3 to 3.5 inches between each other are optimal. The buds should be plump and well exposed to sunlight. If the canes develop in the shade, the fruit quality will be compromised.
New wines are still releasing CO2 from fermentation or are slowly finishing their malolactic fermentation. Like the vines, older vintage wines are dormant during this period; they are quietly ageing in tanks or barrels. Winemakers carefully monitor this stage to ensure that the wine will be sound and problem-free for bottling.
At this stage, timing could not be better to give the wine a breath of oxygen. Yes, you heard me right! Even if I have said in the past that oxygen is usually not friendly toward wine, timing is indeed everything. Too much oxidation in a finished, bottled wine is not ideal. During ageing, however, the wine needs aeration to allow for the dissipation of some compounds, which will develop a smell if not removed. Racking is necessary to eliminate lees and to clarify all types of wines, both red and whites.
This is also the opportunity to add a dose of sulfur for added protection. Usually done using modern equipment with a pump (left picture) or with a gentler gravity flow barrel to barrel racking approach (right picture). The latter method I learned when I was working at Chateau Petrus in Pomerol, France.
Talking to many winemakers, I find that most are problem-solving individuals. There are many theories as to what method is best. Some people think that transferring wine from barrel to barrel is too violent and does not respect the integrity of their production. For some, the concept of racking wine is taking a brand new turn.
This couple from a winery in Oregon, for instance, came up with this contraption using an exercise bicycle, transforming it into their own racking and pumping machine.
Exercising, working out, pumping iron or pumping wine, it is now all the same!