06 June, 2001

So green the vineyards

Veuve Clicquot-vines between Verzy and Verzenay early June.

Vines at Verzy early May.

The vines have spurted like crazy since the first leaves began to unfold in late April. What in early May was just the very first leaf and a bit of stem has now developped into one meter long stems with seven leaves on each. Five of the same - big - size, fully grown adults, and two smaller ones, that will grow into full size during the next month.

The grapes are clearly visible. Little, green and hard as stone of course and with a resemblance closer to that of blackberries or raspberries than grapes. But this is a very early stage. Probably during this month the vines will bloom, it will grow even more green material, the grapes will start to grow bigger and only much later - in August - the vine will change the functionality of its inner powerstation and begin to spend the energy supplied by the leaves on the maturation of its fruits rather than growing bigger itself.

Very young grapes resembles blackberries more than grapes.

Late unfolding
The tender Pinot Noir-clusters that we see in the vineyards between the Grand Cru-villages Verzy and Verzenay in the Montagne de Reims are already rather big, says Alain. Big and also bigger than our Meunier-clusters on the other side of Vertus in the Côte des Blancs. Maybe because Meunier-vines normally develop a bit later than Pinot Noir. Chardonnay is first, which is evident when you study the average dates of this years débourrement, the day where the first leaf is unfolded on more than half of the vines:

  • April 22nd: Chardonnay
  • April 24th: Pinot Noir
  • April 25th: Meunier

    It has been an unusually cold spring. Actually it has been so cold that the old winegrowers already did start to comment on the possibility of a grapeharvest as late as October. As in the old days, where it was necessary to cover the vineyards with nets to avoid that the huge groups of starlings should eat too much of the yield of the year. Nets that collected dust in outhouses and sheds in decades.

    Now the calendar says June, and after a cold and wet start, it seems that we are up for some warm days with more than 25 degrees Celsius and the possibility of eating all meals outside. This heat will surely speed up the growth, the flowering and probably subtract a good number of days from these first guesses of a possible harvest date. A lot may happen during the summer. The classical example these years is still the heatwave in 2003, that very suddenly made it necessary to harvest before foreseen with such short notice that we were only back from holidays in Denmark on the last day.

    A cold spring
    So far this has not excactly been the situation this year. The average day of unfolding - débourrement - according to the professionnal magazine Le Vigneron Champenois edition in May is six days later than the average of the last 25 years.

    The leaves came out - at last - during a short period of warm weather in the second half of April. The weather took yet another turn back to the icy side, and made it necessary to participate in the annual fleamarket of Verzy wearing winter coats on the 1st of May. Since then it just rained and rained and rained. It is only now, with the first week of June already gone by, that we see the sun again, feel its warmth.

    The green stems are soft and easy to remove.

    Ébourgeonnage and épamprage
    In May we have spend some hours to remove superfluous buds and shoots on the vines. the jobs that are called ébourgeonnage - removal of buds - and épamprage - removal of stems. You simply walk up and down the rows and remove, what is not necessary, manually.

    Regular readers may remember that we when pruning the grapes spend a lot of time to secure that only a certain amount of branches, each with a certain amount of buds were left on each vine. However superfluous buds always remain. You simply cannot see them all when they are still lying dormant, and the extra ones are instead removed now before they have grown too much. The objective is that the vine will spend its energy only on the necessary growth and not for instance on shoots that grow from branches that are more than one year and therefore will not supply us with grapes anyway.

    The double wire is lifted from the ground unto a hook on the iron post. In this picture the thread is removed from the hook and put on the ground before pruning. You may see last years shoots - the brown branches - between the double wire.

    Lifting the wires
    The new shoots of the vines have now - with their seven leaves - grown so long, that quite a few winegrowers have already lifted the wires. Both in the Côte des Blancs and here in Montagne de Reims. Our cousin started the job on Whitmonday in her fields at Dormans in the Vallée de la Marne. Alains cousin has already lifted the wires in the vineyards next to ours, but that is Chardonnay-vines, which are normally more developped than our Meunier. We will be checking next weekend.

    The hullaballoo of the double wire has several objectives. The wine is a twining plant, it will grow long stems, that are also quite thin and fragile at this first green stage. Being kept up by and close within the wire protects the stems against possible destruction in storms. It also keeps the vineyards tidy and easy to pass for the tractors that regularly drive up and down the rows to spray insecticides and to cut the vines all summer.

    The double wire can be placed in several positions on the post. In our vineyards it is placed about 20 centimetres below the top wire at 100 centimetres. On each post you find a hook, actually two, in different heights. When we lift the wires we first put it in the hook at the lower level. The principle is then that this wire will pick up the new stems and force them closer to the middle of the row. When they in some weeks have grown longer, the wires will be lifted into the top position at 110 centimetres.

    Too many stems have not been caught by the wire, which has been lifted too early.

    The art is to do this at the very right time which is when a maximum amount of stems will be caught by the wires. All stems that fall out because they are not long enough will have to be placed within the wires manually. This is why it is rather important to know when the time is right: It simply reduces your work afterwards. Alain likes to say that he is good at finding the right time... he hates unnecessary, stupid work, so I sort of believe that... but let's see next weekend.

    På dansk

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    Alain counts the leaves. Seven per stem, five are adults by now.
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