A grape vine grows and produces fruit which is used for consumption and to make wine. What does a vine go through annually to make its fruit? It is not an easy life, and to create the best wine possible, the vine must be tended to and watched. Now, let's walk through a year in the life of a grape vine.
The first three years are not easy for a vine. While it's growing, the vineyard manager trains it to following a trellising system. The trellis will give it the support it needs when the vines grow out and create fruit. In this time, the roots begin to anchor and dig for water and nutrients, while the stalk hardens and builds bark. After this, the vine is ready to create some real fruit.
Just because there is no fruit produced in the winter does not mean there is no work to be done by the vine or farmers. The vine loses its leaves and goes dormant, preserving energy for the long winter, while the farmer prunes the vine and protects it from cold temperatures. The pruning will prevent future spreading of the vine, which would lead to less concentrated fruits.
As soon as the temperatures rise over 50 °F, the vine begins to weep. This is the sap oozing from where the canes were pruned. The vine is beginning to wake from its winter sleep. Next comes budbreak. The first sign of green comes out and the vine is beginning to grow. This stage is very dangerous as the new buds are quite vulnerable to frost- late pruning can delay the budbreak, but could delay the vines' annual cycle.
Next is the development of the fruit. The caps emerge and when they are ready for pollination, the stamens are exposed. Maximum yield is dependent upon how successful pollination is. The pollen is released and hopefully captured through the stamens. Bad weather during this time can adversely affect the fruit sets, resulting in coulure, which is uneven spacing of grapes, or millerandage, uneven grape size.
After this, the grapes begin to mature. Any uneven fruit sets will be pruned, leaving the best fruit behind to concentrate growth and nourishment on. During veraison, sugar levels rise and acid levels lower. This changes the color of the grapes to red or yellow. Then it is up to the vineyard manager to determine the best time to harvest the fruit. Once the fruit is harvested, it is time to get ready for winter again. The grapes are taken away to make wine, and the vine will withdraw for the long hibernation.
Most vines will last over 30 years, and some will go into the hundreds. As they grow older, they produce less fruit and have pressed deep into the earth to grab the richest soils. The grapes will be heavily concentrated and more complex over time.
So the term "Gets better with age" is not just for the wine, but also for the vine!
(Image courtesy of Flickr)