How we work with the vines depends on what the fruit is used for. More intensive hand work is reserved for the parcels destined for our top wines. As an example of how the vines are managed, let's take a look at a block of Syrah destined for one of our Terrasses du Larzac wines.
Our working year starts in Winter, when the vines are without leaves and it's necessary for us to bundle up to keep warm. All the vines producing fruit for the Terrasses du Larzac appellation must be spur pruned (canes cut to two-node length), with no more than five spurs per vine, where vines are usually spaced one metre apart.
In March the vine shoots are starting to grow, with green peeking through the brown bud scales and fibres. At this time of year, there can be the risk of below freezing temperatures, which can damage the green tissue. Our gentle slopes and keeping the between-row cover crop mowed close to the ground help lessen the risk of this happening, but it is a tense time for us all.
After the Spring frost season, the vines are off and running - the rate of shoot growth increases as temperatures rise, leading to judicious use of fungicides to keep diseases such as Powdery Mildew and Downy Mildew from becoming established. We rely on frequent and intensive examination of the vines to monitor the development of diseases and insect pests, rather than applying sprays on a calendar basis. We are fortunate to be in an area that is not so friendly to insects or fungi!
For our top blocks the amount of fruit each vine has is closely examined, as well as how much exposure the fruit has to the sun and sky. Some shoots may be removed from the vine early in the season (usually those that are crowding up the canopy, creating shade), and later on, some leaves and lateral shoots around the clusters may be removed as well. If they are trellised vines, the shoots will be tucked behind wires to maintain hedge-like rows of grapevine leaves, and if the shoots grow too far above the trellis, we will trim them to prevent shading.
Other blocks may have bush vines, which are grown without supports. Shoots tend to splay out in all directions for these vines, leading to a more open canopy and less manual work to keep the fruit in good condition, though they bear less fruit than ones that are trained to a trellis.
Our high-clay soils mean the vines have access to a good reservoir of water, though the Terrasses du Larzac soils hold less water than those in other areas. This keeps vine growth from getting out of hand, improving fruit exposure and wine quality.
Harvest of the grapes is sometimes in the cool mornings and by hand for our top labels to allow for the selection of the best fruit and maintain its freshness until it is processed at the winery.