Leaf fall announces the arrival of cold weather and with it, the end of the growing season. Vine shoots turn into woody canes, and the vine rows gradually shed their green. Seen from above, this autumnal landscape of ochre hues and earth gives a false impression of lifelessness.
During the winter, the vine stores carbohydrate reserves in the trunk, arms and roots. These energy reserves will be vital in nourishing the next season's growth until the leaves are ready to provide the plant with the carbohydrates it needs.
Torres Family vineyards in Sant Miquel, Tremp, in the foothills of the Catalan Pyrenees.
The grapevine adapts better to regions where changes in temperature mark the seasons. In tropical areas close to the equator, rainy seasons are what define the time of year.
The absence of winter deprives the plant of its vegetative dormancy, which means it remains active year round, struggling to survive.
Likewise, an extremely cold winter in continental climates can kill the buds or even the entire vine on rare occasions.
Vines at pruning time in the Sant Miquel vineyards, Tremp.
Vineyard work in the winter
The grapevine's winter dormancy conveys a false sense of inactivity. As we have seen, the vine's energy reserves are latent, waiting to fulfill a specific function. In the meantime, the skilled hands of our team have to carry out a considerable amount of work to prepare the vine for the coming growth season.
After leaf fall, it is time to prune the vines to balance crop load and vigor. Depending on climate conditions and the number of hectares to harvest, the exact pruning dates may vary, but they always fall between November and March.
Manual pruning at the Sant Miquel vineyards in Tremp.
The purpose of dormant pruning is to decide the number and position of the buds that will produce the shoots bearing the next season's crop. There are two types of dormant pruning:
- Cane pruning: One or two canes are kept and trained horizontally along a trellis wire. This method cannot be mechanized and requires manual labor.
- Spur pruning: This method preserves a greater number of canes, pruned short to two or three buds (spurs). The spurs are positioned along a permanent cordon of old wood (more than one year old) and trained horizontally on the trellis or around the head of the vine.
The importance of small vineyard tasks:
After leaf fall, the winegrower takes advantage of dry weather to carry out soil maintenance tasks.
This is also the time to head back grapevines, lower wires and take out old stakes. Vineyard workers remove trellising ties and do minor, yet important repairs to damaged stakes and wires.
Then the vines and canes are attached to support stakes and wires, respectively.
Pruning and trellis wire inspection at the Sant Miquel vineyards, Tremp.
Once the pruning tasks are completed, the woody residues get a second life as clean energy by providing fuel for the winery's biomass boiler.
Amid ochre hues and earth, cloaked in cold and apparent stillness, the seeming lifelessness of the grapevine's winter dormancy belies latent activity, biding its time in the wood and roots. While the plant actively waits, it is up to us to provide the right conditions for the grapevine to fully develop and thrive.