In winter, the vine rests and the vegetative cycle puts itself on standby, but this is no time to be idle. Pruning, sarmentage, topping-up… the winemakers are still busy in the vineyards as well as in the winery.
In the vineyards
Pruning is a crucial stage in the vine’s development.
Carried out in the winter, generally between January and March, it will make the harvest easier and ensure better quality.
Pruning consists of removing the unwanted wood from the previous year and preparing the future harvest by guiding the growth of the vine. Let’s not forget that the vine is a living organism. You have to observe and analyse it to adapt the effort that will be required of it and in particular by planning the number of bunches for the coming year.
Pruning is a technical operation that is essential to the healthy growth of the vine. Its objectives are threefold: to manage the vine’s natural propensity to grow extremely long shoots; to control the number and size of the future clusters to obtain the best possible harvest and ripening; and to adapt the vine to its environment and ensure its longevity by reducing the number of its buds.
Because they are subject to the weather conditions, the winegrowers must also be masters of time by pruning neither too soon nor too late which could upset the future buds, particularly if there is a bad frost.
Sarmentage (clearing up the pruned canes)
While driving along the roads of the Champagne region, you would also certainly have seen the plumes of smoke rising up from the vineyards at this time of year. These are not bonfires or makeshift barbecues. They are fires created by the “sarmentage” of the vines. “Sarmentage” is the name given to a stage following the pruning when the winegrowers burn the discarded wood and canes. Gathered in bundles they are often burned in a metal half-barrel but they are sometimes recycled…
The canes can also be used later in the year as firewood for a barbecue. The cycle is complete!
In the winery
Topping-up (and not just in winter!)
And poof, it’s vanished! No, it is not a magic trick, nor is it a bad joke… the evaporation of the wine during its ageing in oak barrels is, in fact, a well-known phenomenon. The wine soaks into the wood, creating an air pocket (ullage) at the top of the barrel.
The “topping-up” operation therefore counters this natural phenomenon by regularly adding wine to the barrels that have lost wine due to evaporation using a tool called an “ouillette” (similar to a small watering can),
This topping-up operation also prevents what is known as a “piqûre acétique”. This fault is caused by the presence of bacteria in contact with the air which transforms the ethanol in the wine into acetic acid or, put more simply, “turns the wine to vinegar”.
This operation must be carried out regularly after the wines have fermented, twice a week on average, and then more sporadically.
A maximum level of wine must always be maintained in the barrel.
Topping-up is therefore something that demands the winemaker’s constant attention!