09 February, 2002

Gentle fiddling or fast forward

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The cordon gets its characteristic shape when most branches of last year are removed.

All vines of Champagne are manually pruned each winter. It is a quiet work of patience, and therefore very suitable for persons, who likes this kind of task. And - according to a vineyard worker here - it is easy to recognize the work of a woman from the work of a man. The female touch is simply more thoroughly, more tidy than that of a man - sorry Alain, sorry Lars - but this is what she says.

An entertaining observation. But when that is said, the objective is also to finish, and not - like myself - to think and think and think yet once again, before you decide where to use your secateur. If you work this way, you will only reach 100 meters further in one day, and this way the winter will be way to short for you to finish on time. But your work will be careful of course, how could it not be?

There are many possibilities when you prune. Despite the strict rules for grapes destined for champagne, there are both big roads, small roads and dirt roads, that will all take you to Rome. But more experience makes it easier to make the good choice faster.

The useful pruning
There are several reasons why we spend so much time pruning.

  • The plant grows bigger every year. When you remove unnecessary branches, you prevent the vines from working themselves to death, having to feed more and more and longer and longer branches.

  • The grapes grow on one-year old branches. Of these you are allowed a certain number. You are not interested in many grapes, just a little bit more than the number you expect to sell at the harvest.

  • When you achieve the right balance between the hard, old tree and a suitable number of new shoots with leaves, you normally grow better grapes. This suitable balance depends on the micro conditions in the plot.

  • The tractors pass more easily trough tidy rows, which makes them break less branches.

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    This plant has several cordons, only one will survive the pruning.

    We grow Meunier-vines pruned in the Vallée de la Marne-style in one plot. In the other plot - the one with the miserable cordons - there is still a lot of work left.

    Several models
    A vine kan be pruned in several different ways, that depend on parameters like tradition, the weather and what is decided in the AOC-rules.

    In Champagne the vines are pruned rather low and planted dense. In other areas with vines, the vines are taller, the rows planted with a bigger distance between them and so on. The systems are adjusted to the climatic and geological conditions in your area and - very locally - in your plot.

    The most common pruning-systems in Champagne are the Chablis and the Cordon. We use the latter in one plot and the Vallée de la Marne in another, the Vallée de la Marne resembles a faster way of doing a Cordon.

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    This version of Chablis has three arms, each of far ends of the branches will grow grapes.
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    Cordon, where the tiny branches on the long and old arm (cordon) and the far end will grow grapes.

    At times I must pinch my own arm once or even twice to understand that pruning of champagne vines is now one of my weekly tasks during a day in say January or February.

    It is only three years ago, that I walked with my stroller on dirt roads between the vines wondering what all these people in dark green coats were doing outside all day long. I am one of them now.

    The chariot used by many
    Alain has always bent over his vines, when he prunes. My bag does not put up with such a treatment. I use the little chariot, that enables me to sit down, when I prune. This slows down my speed, but it enables me to work with other things when I don't prune, so it is practical after all. Instead, my body is just tired, but tired in the quite pleasant way you reach after physical work outside.

    Thus I use the chariot, and so does many others. If you see a dirty car in Verzy around lunchtime, you have an almost 100 percent certitude to see one of these chariots in the boot. There is even a guy who travels with it on his lap when he drives back and forth between his house and vines on a small moped.

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    I work myself upwards on my little chariot.

    The pruning is finished just about at the same time as winter. In France officially at vernal equinox March 21st. The few surviving branches will be attached to the lowest thread of the wires at a height of just 50 or 60 centimetres with little pieces of wires surrounded by raffia.

    Now, which sex has more bindings? My mouth is shut... It is no competition after all.

    After the attachment of the branches the active cycle of the vines is not far.

    På dansk

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