Vine growth options, or vineyard management, includes all the decisions a wine farmer must make to maximize the success a vineyard has during the growing season. It is important to know the stages of a grape’s growth as different decisions must be made at each stage as the farmer collaborates with every challenge Mother Nature throws his or her way.
While there are multiple stages in the growing process, we are going to go over the main ones:
VINE PRUNING – During the winter and spring, farmers prune grapevines to limit the number of shoots on each vine to manage the potential amount of leaves and grape bunches it can produce. Unpruned, grapevines grow into wild tangles of long vine tendrils. Pruned to maximize photosynthesis, grapes can ideally ripen and build the perfect balance of flavor, sugar and acid to make amazing wine.
FLOWERING – Bunches of flowers appear on the vine in early spring, each one having the potential to become a grape. Farmers must protect the flowers from birds and animals which might feed on the flowers. Grape flowers can pollinate by wind, easily ensuring grapes will grow.
FRUIT SET – Small, dark green balls form once the flowers pollinate creating the beginning of the grape bunches. As these grow larger, wine farmers may choose to remove some of the bunches, called “green harvesting” to better manage the total yield each vine can produce. Regional laws in some countries even dictate the yield (the amount of grapes that can be harvested in a designated area) a vineyard is allowed to produce. Farmers also may remove leaves from the grapevines during the growing season to ensure enough sunlight is available to promote healthy growth.
RIPENING – All grapes are green through most of the growing process, once they begin to ripen, black grapes will begin to darken while white grapes will turn golden. Acid levels when ripening begins are extremely high and will begin to drop as the grapes fully ripen. Sugar content will continue to increase until harvest. Most importantly, the aromas and flavors of the grapes continue to change during the ripening – every day grapes remain on the vine can have a significant impact on the ultimate wine. Mother Nature is still playing a critical role as a big rain can plump grapes on the vine diluting their flavor, hail can destroy a crop in a split second and frost can do irreparable damage. Some wine styles demand grapes remain on the vine for extra ripening, or late harvesting, to develop much higher levels of sugar. The result can be residual sweetness, higher alcohol or complexity and depth of flavor in the finished wine.