You may have heard the phrase “great wine is made in the vineyard” and it’s true! Great wines come from great grapes. So, let’s take a look at the lifecycle of a grapevine and learn how each season affects that year’s vintage.
- Grapevines are perennial plants that produce grapes on year-old shoots.
- The growing season stretches from April–October in the Northern Hemisphere and October–April in the Southern Hemisphere.
- A grapevine will not produce grapes until it is at least three years old.
- Grapevines mature for a period of 30 or so years, at which point many are considered to be “old vines.” Of course, there is no official definition for “old vine” wines.
- As long as the environment provides the plant’s basic needs, the vine will continue to survive. In fact, there are vines over 400 years old.
- Without human intervention, grapevines will naturally grow into a bushy-tree-like mess of leaves and branches. Meticulous pruning and training help the vines stay nice and organized, and focus their energy on growing impeccable grapes.
The Lifecycle of a Grapevine
One of the hardest and most important activities in the vineyard is the winter pruning. This determines which year-old shoot will be conserved for next year and ultimately how much fruit the vine will bear in the next vintage.
In spring, a crucial moment takes place: buds begin to grow. The buds are extremely delicate and it’s not uncommon for spring hailstorms to destroy the buds, which will reduce the year’s crop, sometimes by 100%.
After the buds break in early spring, they continue to grow. Some viticulturists prune the downward facing shoots to ensure that all the shoots grow upward and to reduce the potential crop size. This strategy involves reducing quantity to increase quality because vines that produce limited numbers of grapes produce more concentrated grapes.
The flowers of grapevines are called perfect flowers: they pollinate themselves without the need of bees.
Early summer is when the majority of the leafy growth occurs. The grape berries stay green as they continue to grow in size.
In mid to late summer, the green berries start to change color and ripen. The changing of color is a process called verasion (“verre-ray-shun”) and it’s when the grapes become sweet.
Harvest time is a crucial moment when the grapes reach their perfect ripeness. Viticulturists and harvesters work around the clock to pick the grapes in time. Grapes do not continue to ripen once picked.
In the late fall, some producers leave a few bunches on the vine for a late-harvest wine. The grapes raisinate (dry out) and are later pressed to make a very sweet, dessert wine. At this point, the vine has stopped producing carbohydrates from the chlorophyll in the leaves. The leaves then lose their color and fall to the ground.
Through winter, all that is left from the year’s growth is a thicket of vines.