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Winter in viticulture

Have you ever wondered what a year in the life of a vineyard entails? Find out more about the steps in winter.

The wine year in winter (December to February)

Winter is now slowly encroaching and the golden leaves of autumn are falling. While temperatures are dropping and the first night frosts are making an appearance, the stems are hardening. During their winter dormancy, the vines recover and the winter buds that have already formed are ready to burst open in spring. Harsh winters are a serious risk, as temperatures below minus 15°C are enough to kill off the buds and stems. The vines are pruned in January and February. Whilst in Mediterranean areas of Southern Europe, it is more common to cultivate vines close to the ground and practice cane pruning, in more continental regions cordon training is widespread. From March onwards, the shoots are trained onto the bent wire, ideally in damp weather as they will then be at their most pliable.
In winter, the young wines are aged in the cellars. Ageing takes place in steel tanks and/or wooden barrels, depending on the desired wine style. Following alcoholic fermentation, the young wines are either left for a while on the lees or transferred straight to new tanks. Oenologists enjoy a lot of freedom in how they approach tasks such as malolactic fermentation, barrique ageing, and the creation of sparkling wine.
All the words written in italics in the text are explained in our wine glossary.
Burgundy is noted for its harsh climate, which plays right into the hands of the two main local varietals, Pinot noir and Chardonnay. In January, the vines of the Hospices de Beaune estate are cut according to the ‘single Guyot’ method, leaving behind shoots with several buds from which the grapes will grow in spring. At Hospices de Beaune, with its 60-plus hectares of vineyard, the grapes are picked by hand. After pressing, the grape juice is left to stand overnight to allow sediment to form. The juice is then transferred to barriques made of French oak with a chestnut wood hoop, so that the ‘pièces’, as the barrels are called, can easily be moved around the cellar. Once the wine is in the oak barrels, the malolactic fermentation process begins, during which the wine naturally clears. It is then aged for up to 18 months or more.
The full-bodied Amarone hails from the Valpolicella region north of Verona. Each December, the vines in the vineyards of Fausto, Elena and Federica Zeni are pruned and stripped of their last leaves, in order to create the best possible conditions for the new shoots.
At this point, the harvested grapes, Corvina grossa, have already been drying “appassimento” for around two months. Normally, in order to bring out the aromas the grapes are dried on the windy valley floor. The cool air flowing down from the mountains supports this ‘appassimento’ technique. Fans provide extra ventilation. By December, the grapes have lost around 25 percent of their weight and have a much higher sugar content. It is now that the winemaking process begins in the cellars of the Zeni family of vintners. Like a conventional red wine, Amarone is fermented from fresh grapes. Fermentation lasts around two weeks, after which the wine is transferred to oak barrels holding 50 hectolitres. Before the full-bodied Amarone is bottled, after 18 months to two years, it is refined further.