06 May, 2002

Removing the stems

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We have begun the épamprage - that is to remove the surplus stems of the vines manually - in Loisy-en Brie.

Status after a sunshine weekend of work:

  • 28 rows of Meunier-vines have been cleaned for surplus stems,
  • more destroyed wires have been temporarily repaired,
  • I have caught some sort of skin eruption, perhaps by the sun,
  • my thighs and knees bid for mercy after one afternoon of work.

    When the vines begin to grow, all the buds, that were invisible in winter, suddenly become very visible. If we had had the time, we could have flicked them off, before they had grown into long stems. During my almost four years in Champagne, we so far never have had the time.

    Instead we must remove the still soft and therefore still rather compliant stems. It is not too late, just a bit more difficult, because the already impressive amount of leaves and size of leaves prevents a good overview, so necessary to be able to separate the important, fertile stems from the nonfertile gourmands.

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    In the beginning of the season the stems are green and soft and easy to remove with the hands.

    So why all this trouble? Well, the objective of most of the manual work in the vines during a year is to balance the plant well to achieve a good balance between the amount of hard wood, leaves and fruits. A sufficient amount of each of these three makes the plant healthy and strong and secures, that the grapes mature in the best possible way.

    Removing the stems
    The removal of stems maintains the amount of leaves and stems, that later develops into hard tree, at a good level. The amount of grapes is already balanced, that is one of the targets of the pruning during the winter.

    "Don't think too much". Alain repeats this over and over again, when we work together in the vines. It slows you down to think too much. But it is not until you really know what you are doing, that your experience moves from the brain into the fingers. But when you have achieved this, it's like driving a car, you work concentrated and rather automatic. The mistakes are more likly to occur once you start to think than when you don't.

    But if I work this way, I'm likely to make mistakes. That's when I remove stems that carry grapes for instance. Very forbidden since we are likely not to have enough grapes to meet our quota of kiloes. There are simply not enough fruits in this plot. So I feel very bad, when I by mistake remove something that would have grown into grapes. New as I am and therefore very, very careful with my every move. But I still make mistakes. You only avoid that if you don't do anything at all.

    The fast way to remove stems is to clean everything on the foot of the plant apart from those on the opposite side of the cordon, the horizontal part of the vine. These are the ones we will need next winter to prune the small rachet at the bottom of the plant This is what you need to renew the plant year after year.

    Tractors give us work
    We work in the upper plot. The rist of frost still bother, but now only a a little bit and not for much longer. But since this field is on a slope, it is less endangered than the lower on flat land. Also we expect - and hope for - more grapes on the lower field, and therefore clean it last.

    Very sad it is to find the wires in the upper plot destroyed - once again. More precisely in the rows, where the tractors pass. The wires are in a poor condition, but now the vines grow, and it is not longer possible to change them. Alain must continue the emergency repairs, that now seem to have become a steady task for the rest of the summer each time a tractor has passed to spread pesticides or insecticides. They stop only one month before the grapeharvest, normally in August.

    Itchy sun
    I spend today with red nose and itchy neck. Despite reparations withh after sun cream and hours before covering all danger spots like nose and neck with sun cream. The itchiness however is a firsttimer, and I wonder why.

    I hope it is due to old creme rather than an allergy to the sun. Since it is somewhat difficult to turn down the big lamp, when you work under it, and in the vines you really catch pretty big doses of whatever weather the day brings.

    Not my legs though, unfortunately wrapped in jeans. Even they really need to see the sun. Today they just want to relax. The vines are only 50 centimeters tall, when you work you either bend over the plant to see the other side of it, or you bend your knees. Both are hard, and I always end up crawling or at times sit on my behind. The problem is that this position makes me move far too slow between the plants.

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    There is a whole range of bad work positions in the vines, also when you remove surplus stems.

    How people are able to work in the vineyards for a lifetime without becoming disabled, is a bigger and bigger mystery to me. There are absolutely no good positions no matter what you do. And the vine-pensioners do admit that it is had, but they're still around. I know several with a great physique even after a long life in the vines.

    I have only a couple of years of experience, and not even full time, so my physique is not hardened. Sole comfort: Alain too was really tired this morning, so even I'm probably the biggest weakling of the family, I'm still not completely alone.

    Pending: One third of the upper plot and the lower, that will demand more work, because it apparently has been pruned less hard, and also the stems are already harder.

    På dansk

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