On Drink

Labour of love

Spring is an essential time in wine production

This article is taken from the March 2022 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.

March winds, April showers, bring forth May flowers is a proverb known to every English gardener as well as many schoolchildren. It reminds us of the passing of the cold season and the anticipation of brighter, cheerful things to come. It also reminds us (or at least the some of us who take a peculiar interest in these things) that the vineyards of the northern hemisphere, having slept under a carpet of leaves and brushwood during winter, are ready to waken. But before the blustery month, comes the barren one. 

February may be a nothing time for most, but for the vintner it is time for the tireurs to clean up the mould and cut back the dead wood to mineralise the soil and make light for the new leaves. Their labour is the essential antecedent to the work that must be done today. For as the temperature climbs, so do the shoots, and thus the first job for the vintner is to trellis his vines on taught steel wires, hung horizontally in rows, so the plants creep upwards not outwards, clear of the ground for better light and aeration. 

But trellising lianas and re-tensing wires are not the total of the work. Pruning to promote regrowth and strategic replanting are also vital to the success of the vineyard. The spring sap rises and is secreted through the little scars left by the vignerons’ secateurs and so it is said that the vines weep for the passing of the winter and for the coming of warmer weather. 

Whilst the tireurs toil in their fields, their customers while away March skiing the Chamonix slopes

The piled earth around the roots is cleared away and the ancient tier-cavaillon toothed hoe is set to work breaking up the ground to ventilate the compressed clay. Without such help the soil, starved of oxygen, will not feed the roots of the rising plants. Timing is essential. Tilling too early is a risky business for spring frosts can wreak havoc with young growth exposed to the elements before it has time to mature. 

However, if done properly and carefully, the tears of the vines are wiped away and the first foundation of a successful grape harvest is assured. First foundation but not last. As the strength of the sun intensifies so do the vine branches — by up to six inches each day. 

To protect the plants from collapsing they must be disbudded and suckered to reduce their weight and continually tied up to the trellis poles then trimmed by nimble fingers working fast against time. It is a tedious task made all the more so by its manual nature, yet it has been done for all time.

Of course, whilst the tireurs toil in their fields, some of their customers while away March on the other frontier of France, criss-crossing the Alpine catwalks and skiing the Chamonix slopes. Easter in the mountains is a time for Glühwein and party games. Red wine, heated and spiced with cinnamon sticks, cloves, star anise, orange, sugar and vanilla pods, perhaps with a shot of something stronger, combine to keep out the cold whilst waiting for the return of warm weather. 

Because it will come, and when it does a new vintage is born and laid down, another cuvée created, and the hope and expectation of new and wonderful pleasures are bottled, bought and uncorked.

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