German Riesling in the quiet month of January
After the exhilarating weeks spent in the vineyard during harvest and then the chaotic weeks in the dark gloomy cellars, the month of January brings along with it well-merited peace and calm, writes Dr Ariff Jamal. For the winemakers it is a moment to reflect back on the past vintage, an instant to analyze, understand and then plan out the level of quality and quantity for the coming vintage. Pictured: VIew of Riesling vineyards in winter
This, in fact, can be a decisive conclusion on the basis of which some have made a reputation for an outstanding wine, while others just make a good wine. Biologically, the vine is a liana plant, characterized by its unending propensity for growing. To interrupt this dominance, the vine must be trimmed down and tied in trellis. By doing this the winemaker eliminates the one-year-old wood, allowing the development of new shoots which will serve as the basis for the next vegetation period. Manipulating such growth is the art of pruning.
The first frost also allows nature to rest. The nutrient reserves still stored in the leaves find their way back through the shoots to the trunk and then to the roots, which are then used in the next growing season. Hence the importance of pruning - the wait game - and the play of cold weather for avoiding a cut down before the nutrients have had the time to safely retreat.
While the vines may have come to rest, the winemaker is again active. His role is now that of a viticulturist. His priorities lie in creating the foundation for the coming vegetation period. Depending on various considerations such as the grape variety, geographical location, age and hygienic health conditions of the vine, the winemaker will now have to determine the ratio between leaves and grapes that he desire on one shoot, also bearing in mind the requirement for quality and quantity, past yield levels along with future anticipated climatic conditions, and the maturity of the vine itself for its successful and long lasting cultivation. This obligation to optimize will avoid the risk of too many leaves in the grape zone.
Before the final crucial cut he will have to retain the chosen shoot, which was free from the previous year´s diseases without damage, is well positioned and of the same height as the one of the year before. Then he will ensure that the selected shoot has a 7-10mm diameter and is developed and healthy. Having done this, he can now guarantee the upcoming vegetation period.
Teams of cutters or pruners, qualified in their job, are now let loose into the vineyards to remove all the unwanted shoots and only leave behind those selected by the winemaker. This is extremely hard and exhausting toil, but rewarding during the peace and calm of winter. The view of the steep slope valley now shrouded in the cold and quiet offered by nature allows the winemaker to regenerate and prepare himself for the exciting and tumultuous vintage ahead.