For most varieties, the vines were pruned before the fires in October. Some growers called out all their workers and worked all night to finish pruning their vines as the fires burned in the hills behind them. I’m fairly familiar with the process of deciding when to harvest the mature grapes, but I still don’t know quite how the decision is made to prune the vines.
The vineyards lie flies dormant for two to three months until ‘bud break’, the first appearance of new leaves. A bright green coat of new leaves begins to appear along the branches which have been left after the pruning process. The older vines are ‘head pruned’ leaving plenty of leaves to shield the grapes. Most vines are ‘side pruned’ with one or two branches trained along a wire which is parallel to the ground. The grapes grow in fairly regimented rows underneath these branches and are protected from burning by the roof of leaves over their heads.
My picture for today is of the tiny clusters of grapes that are just beginning to form
on the vines. The grapes in the picture are a white variety, probably a Chardonnay, but even the reds are this color when they first appear. It is one of my favorite times in the cycle of wine growing and production. The promise of new life and many delicious sips of wine are all contained in these tiny buds.
My next favorite time is ‘the crush’ when the grapes are harvested and crushed and the stems and seeds are removed before the resulting ‘must’ is put into tanks or barrels.We got to participate in this process one year. If you have any interest you can read my description of it here. It is a furiously busy time of year depending almost entirely on when the sugar content or ‘brix’ reading is deemed just right for harvesting by the winemaker. Too little sugar and the must won’t ferment. Too much sugar results in a sweet dessert type wine; in Germany it is called ‘eiswein’ . These grapes usually aren’t harvested until after the first frost and resemble raisins, yielding very little liquid and limited quantities of final product.