Dormant Period: In mid-November, the vine begins to lose its autumn leaves (red, yellow, purple, etc.), leaving the branches naked and, apparently, dry. Once this has happened, the branches are pruned down to what viticulturists call “spurs.” In this way, the shape of the plant is maintained and the production for the following year can be regulated.
Bleeding and Bud Break. In late February, the vines begin to leak small amounts of sap from the wounds left by pruning. This is the first sign that the vineyard is awakening, and is called “bleeding.” In mid-March, the buds are covered in a cottony down and begin to swell. After two weeks, these buds break open and the first shoots make their appearance, giving way to the sprouting and development of leaves. April is a source of great worry for winegrowers, because the late frosts which tend to strike in this month can decimate the tender shoots which are so susceptible to ice.
Flowering and Fruit Set. In late May, and all throughout June, the vines begin to bloom. If a flower has not been pollinated or suffers from a lack of nutrients, it will dry up and fall off the cluster. Only 30% of flowers are pollinated and turn into grapes, in a process called “set.” If the percentage is lower, shatter or defective fruit set can occur (the Grenache varietal is particularly sensitive to this). Several factors influence this phenomenon (extreme strain, heavy rains, temperatures below 59 ºF / 15 ºC, etc.)
Veraison. The tiny green berries become fatter and continue to grow for a period of 50-60 days, after which the berries change color and take on the characteristic shade of the variety: purple if it is red, yellow if it is white. This color change is called “veraison.” Of course, the grapes cannot be harvested yet, because they are still not ripe. If you were to taste one, it would be very sour and there would be very little sweet taste.
Maturation. This is the period of time between veraison and the harvest, approximately 40-50 days, depending on the weather. This time is characterized by accumulating levels of sugars in the grapes and a sharp decrease in acidity; the berries become quite aromatic and intensely colored. If you were to taste a grape now, you would find the tannins much softer, and the grape less acidic. During this process, the grape reaches an optimum state of perfect ripeness, when there is a loss of water through evaporation, decreased bunch weight and a higher concentration of sugar in the berry. It is very important to choose the right time for harvest, so September is a month of continuous monitoring and testing in the field. The grapes should have a good balance between sugar content and acidity, and the pips should be quite hard (so that they crunch when they are bitten) but without excessive over-ripening, which reduces the elegance of the resulting wine.