What happens while grapevines are sleeping?
Have you ever wondered what happens in an English vineyard during the cold winter months? It is a beautiful time of the year when the natural world seems to come to a halt and the vines enjoy a long, well-earned break after a flurry of activity at harvest. This period of grapevine dormancy brings a wonderful feeling of tranquillity to our environment and the occasional picture-perfect dusting of snowflakes makes the landscape look quite magical.
While our vines are resting and everything appears calm, you might be surprised to learn that it’s actually one of the busiest seasons for our trusty vineyard crew as a lot of the hard graft takes place while the vines are dormant. And to make matters harder, all the essential tasks such as pruning, fixing wires, replacing posts and removing rabbit guards are done by hand.
Winter pruning is arguably the most important job in the vineyard calendar as it sets the stage for the upcoming growing season. Each individual vine (all 200,000!) is assessed by a skilful set of eyes and a crucial decision is made about the number of buds to leave on the vine as we strive to create the ideal balance between grapevine vigour, yield and fruit quality. After the desired canes have been selected to keep, the surplus wood is removed – something which is commonly known as “pulling out”. To help with the arduous winter tasks this year, we’ve invested in some new toys for the team including the Mage EasyPrune cordless electric secateurs, which are showing promising results already in terms of quicker pruning times and fewer painful blisters. As you can imagine, they are a huge hit with our team.
At the end of this month, we will begin tying down the selected canes, which always comes as a welcome relief after the physical exertion of pulling out the old wood. All the canes are carefully tied down with a biodegradable paper tie onto the horizontal fruiting wire ensuring that the buds do not get damaged in the process. Again, we would normally do this by hand, which is incredibly time-consuming and fiddly, but this year we are using the Mage Electric Tying Tools which produce and twist ties up to five times quicker than the speed of manual tying tools. We should be done in no time at all!
As with every year, once the vines have been pruned and tied down, we are left nervously waiting for the nail-biting stage of budburst to begin as we hope and pray that we will escape a visit from Jack Frost. Only this year, we’re also looking forward to returning to the vineyard office so that we can share in the highs and lows of the growing season together.