A newly-married couple from Los Angeles quit their jobs to work on farms and wineries across Europe. Read it from the beginning...

Vines need to suffer

Posted: June 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Bordeaux, France, Wine | 4 Comments »

You’d think grape vines would have it easy. The way wine is cooed over by the cultured and wealthy, and labored over by millions of dedicated vintners, then surely their lives must be nothing but sunshine and gentle care, right?

Allow me to introduce a vine knife, held by my lovely wife Halbe. This nasty, hooked blade is one of several torture devices we’ve employed since arriving at our current host. With it we hack and carve the plants, and for what? The idea is this: happy vines make no fruit. Vines beaten to the limit of their survival produce offspring (that’s grapes to us) as quickly as possible.

We start young. Three-year-olds, dude. By now they have decent roots (American, of course) and have grown six to eight long, green vines. They reach out to the sky, flopping in the air like the arms of laughing children. Not acceptable. We spent five days removing these vines from 7,000 baby plants. Halbe preferred the knife, but I just ripped them out with my bare hands. We leave two vines on each, and truss them up with plastic cord, holding them vertical.

The babies, they don't understand

Now, with less vines to support, the roots pump all their goodness into those two remaining, vertically-tied vines, forcing the plant to grow to a better height for picking and further abuse/tending.

Épamprage (eh-pahm-prajsh) comes next. The plants get bigger and eventually produce grapes. They also continue to attempt new vines, from the graft point, from the stalk, and from the head. We hack those off. On some farms, they have a machine to do this. It smacks the vines with strips of rubber tire until those suckers rip off.

What else? Oh yes, if they get too tall, they chop off the tops. You’re not allowed to water them. And, as if to add insult to injury, when they DO grow grapes, some farms do a vert vandage — green harvest — and remove about a third of the immature grapes and throw them away.

It’s a hard knock life, absolutely, but without it, we’d have no wine. Generally speaking, the harder those vines have to work to grow those grapes, the higher the quality of grape and the finer the wine. But not too much pain. After all, a vintner depends on those vines for their own survival.

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4 Comments on “Vines need to suffer”

  1. 1 mindy/Mom said at 4:46 pm on June 30th, 2010:

    omg, poor baby vines!! Interesting, though, how the life challenges of the growing vines actually make them more healthy and productive…like Soul!

  2. 2 Z said at 5:04 pm on June 30th, 2010:

    Same goes for people. That’s why the “lower classes” breed more.

  3. 3 DonnaAnn said at 5:56 pm on July 1st, 2010:

    Wow, Halbe looks eerily natural with that knife poised to maim.

  4. 4 Ace Mudbone Sr. said at 12:15 am on July 3rd, 2010:

    It all sounds a little S&Mish. Those wacky grapes.

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