Wine – The seasonal cycle

By Robin Ransom

The passage of seasons may be less apparent for city dwellers than it is for those in the country, particularly people who work on the land. As a migrant from the city, albeit a long time ago, I still never tire of watching seasonal change in the vines.

There are few more obvious expressions of seasonality than that displayed by grape vines and change in the vineyard is perhaps more outrageously manifest in spring than any other season. On what appear to be lifeless vines, buds swell slowly over several weeks, gathering power before their big bang – their burst into riotous expansion, rather like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. Dozens of thin pale green parallel lines snake across the hillside in an eye-pleasing geometry. In coming weeks the thin lines gradually thicken until they merge into a rich green carpet.

Close up amongst the vines at this time growth is so fast it seems almost visible. Vineyard workers must ensure that the moveable foliage wires are correctly spaced so fast-growing new shoots are protected from wind damage and channeled upward for orderly development of emerging leaves and inflorescences. New shoots are vulnerable to the vagaries of spring weather – frequent rain showers and often fierce winds – but wind also has a drying effect on new foliage to help protect against fungal disease.

At this time of year, with the annual cycle starting, winegrowers’ thoughts turn again toward the promise which their vines will fulfill a few months hence. Hard-bitten vineyard managers in muddy gumboots have been heard waxing lyrical about the miracle emerging before their eyes.

Poets have commemorated springtime forever, but it is difficult to convey in words what this new beginning really means to those whose livelihood is so directly influenced by the latent potential symbolised so powerfully in grape vines at this time of year.