20 January, 2000

Annual facelift of the vine

To prune is an important part of securing the health of your wine.

The big job of the winter in the countryside in Champagne is to prune the wine. The main part of the growth of last year will be cut of all 31.000 hectars with the lucrative plant. And all is manual, so with around 8000 plants per hectare, the pruning is a rather big task.

We have got 36 rows of Pinot Meunier to deal with. They have been planted for more than 30 years ago by Alains father, uncle and grandfather. And there is no reason why they should not continue the growth for the next 20 years. That is, if we take care of them nicely and we are lucky to avoid serious disease.

A careful and thorough pruning is no garantee against all evil that kan harm a wine. However it is an important factor, because it ensures the continued balance of the plant. The real art of pruning is to achieve the right balance between growth and fertility, between the number of new branches and the number of grapes.

In average you spend five minutes per plant when pruning.

A wine hibernates in the winter. Only when the plant wakes up again around the month of March, it needs energy again to begin the growth of the season. When the leaves are completely unfold - sometimes only in May - the sun can deliver the necessary energy via the photosyntesis: When the rays of the sun meet the green leaves, the plant will form sugar, which ensures the further growth and later matures the grapes.

Until then the wine lives and survives due to its own latex. In the autumn the latex flows downwards in the plant, the amount of water diminishes, which makes the sugar more concentrated. This changed inner composition helps the plant to survive the frost of the winter. In the late winter/early spring the juices of the plant goes upwards again, and when it reaches the buds, the wine wakes up and starts its preparations to open.

The rise and fall of the latex
Since the energy - the latex - in the winter is a limited resource, the winegrower must secure that it is used in the best possible way. The idea of the pruning is to leave as much old tree as to save enough juice to feed the number of buds, you want. No more, no less. This is how you secure just the production of fruits that you need. What remains of the energy will secure the growth of branches and the important leaves, that later will supply the energy to mature the grapes.

The resting buds on the branches have been formed last year. They constitute the basis of the grapes, we will pick next autumn. The normal rule of thumb states between 12 and 15 grapes per plant. Just enough to fill the 75 centiliter of one standard bottle of champagne.

Help from the big shovel
Extensive disease, crop failure or advanced age can make it necessary to renew from the bottom. If it is a case of a few diseased plants, you will give them a helping hand towards their final death. If it is a case of a greater plot, you will send for the big yellow earth-moving machinery.

Renewing a parcel of wine completely helped by the big shovel.

Depending on the condition of the soils a wine may develop very long roots. The important thing is how far it must seek before it finds water.

In this plot a few hundred meters outside Verzy it is only a matter of around one meter, before the chalklayer starts. Since the chalk contains the moisture, a wine needs, these plants have had no need to grow very long roots. Which is why the driver of the machine expects to remove most of the roots from these old plants. A job that is quite a bit more complicated with very long and extended roots.

When the plants have been removed, the soil for optimum results must lye fallow in a couple of years or three, before you plant new wine. Then you wait further a couple of years before you build the climbing frames. When the soil lies fallow it regains strength but also you avoid passing disease from the old to the new plants.

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