A very wise woman called Fraulein Maria once said to me "lets start at the very beginning, a very good place to start".
When you read you begin with ABC... and when you talk about wine you start with the basics in the vineyard.
We often hear wine folks say that "good wine is made in the vineyard" or "you can't make good quality wine out of bad quality fruit."
And this is definitely not a old wives tales we need Mythbusters to ruin for us, they are both very accurate statements.
That being said the best way to truly understand where wine comes from is to delve into the basics of the lifecycle of the grapevine.
The humble grapevine is a perfect example of a perennial plant where it doesn't live for one growing season and die like an annual plant, a perennial regrows every spring - blooms over summer - then the foliage dies off in autumn - and the vine becomes dormant over winter, where the vineyard workers then prune the canes of the vine back to the cordons, leaving a couple of buds, which in spring will burst into life again and start the cycle once more.
Some viticulturists prune the shoots facing down to ensure that all growth upward which will reduce the potential crop size and is a technique used to reduce quantity to increase quality. Vines that produce a limited yield of grapes tend to produce more concentrated fruit.
Sounds simple? Well, to make a low quality wine you won't really want to do much after the bud burst stage as the amount of man-hours (or woman-hours!) put into vineyard work adds to the final shelf price. So the more you do by machine the easier it is to churn out a 2 buck chuck.
The higher the wine costs to buy, usually reflects the amount of work that goes into growing / making it.
A standard Central Otago Pinot Noir for instance has 4 maybe 5 times more work put into it then a standard Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
In Central Otago most of the work in the vineyard is done by hand; Over the summer months they will be mostly removing leaves from vines. This is an important job that that aids ripening by exposing the bunches to the sun and reduces disease by reducing the density of the canopy, allowing for air flow and quick drying following the morning dew.
As harvest time approaches, the task is to remove any secondary set fruit (bunches from flowers that blossomed after the original fruit set) and any unripe bunches are also dropped, this technique is called a 'green harvest' which will limit the yield, to ensure the fruit ripens evenly and the vine can achieve complex flavour concentration. Also, this stops any pickers, (who are usually new to vineyard work, and who will remove pretty much anything that looks like grapes from the vine) from picking any other than top quality fruit.
Everything you do in the vineyard and to each individual vine will effect its performance, even if only minutely; you are contributing to the development and condition, the health and the function and ultimately the quality of the grapes that will determine the resulting wine.
There is one romantic misconception about harvest… grape picking.
Many people imagine local French mademoiselles in floaty sun-dresses happily carrying their wicker baskets full of beautiful bunches through the vineyards…
To be honest, I would rather spend 8 hours in the cellar operating a crusher destemmer, or working with tanks, pumps and hoses, than 8 hours picking grapes.
It’s messy, buggy, sticky, hot, nasty work. There is no sugar coating this kind of work. It is hard, sometimes quite physically exhausting and surprisingly hazardous.
It is not difficult, but it promotes challenges if you are keen to tackle them.