Every year, in our Viña Lanciano vineyard we experience the different stages in the vine growth cycle. Weather conditions determine the start of some of the phases and the various tasks that we carry out in the vines.
Between January and February, depending on the year, we start to prune the vines while they are dormant – that is to say, when the sap is concentrated in the trunk and not flowing through the plant. It is a process that is not just done once, as we usually start with a first phase of pre-pruning, which helps us with the later pruning. We also use this opportunity to apply copper paint that heals the cuts and avoids fungi and other harmful bacteria from getting into the plant.
This is one of the magic moments in the vineyard, which lasts little more than a week. Sometimes, you can see it, but the right weather conditions have to occur to waken each plant. It usually coincides with the end of winter or the start of spring. The soil temperature needs to reach 10 degrees for the sap to start to flow and reach the ends of the plant where it appears like a teardrop. That is why we say in Spanish that the vineyard “cries” when it comes back to life for another year.
The budding of the vines
Shoots grow from small buds that will soon turn into leaves. Meanwhile, we strive to clear the land of weeds and we work the earth to air the land, in order to avoid the proliferation of harmful insects. The shoots grow soon after sap rise, as the soil in our vineyards is poor and stony. The pebbles help to retain the heat of the sun, which favours budding. At the start, the plant is nourished by the vines’ reserves, before growing vigorously.
Green harvesting I: suckering
Suckering, or “espergura” as it is known in Rioja, consists of removing the green shoots that grown both on the permanent wood (trunk and branches), and the new spurs and/or canes, with the aim of identifying exactly which buds will be left to grow after winter pruning. This is done in order to maintain the training system and improve the quality of the grapes. In this way, we remove the shoots by hand from the areas where we don’t want them to grow and we strengthen the plant, improving airflow and light penetration.
All fruits start out as flowers. The colour can vary according to the grape variety, but in general, small white flowers that will become the future bunches of grapes appear at the end of May or the start of June in our vineyards, when the temperature is a stable 15 to 20 degrees. This one of the most important moments in the growth cycle, as it will determine the quantity of grapes that will grow on each bunch and the size of the harvest.
Unnecessary shoots – known as “nietos” or “grandchildren” in Spanish – cause the plant to concentrate on growing leaves when it should be nourishing the bunches. This process is known as “desniete” or “desnietado” in La Rioja and is carried out completely by hand when the grapes are the size of a pea, so that the plant can concentrate on the fruit. It also improves airflow to remove any excess humidity that can attract enemies to the vine.
Gradually, over the course of the summer, the initially small green berries get bigger; they change from the colour of chlorophyll to take on transparent colours as the fruit swells with its increasing water and sugar content. The big change in Viña Lanciano – where we grow black grape varieties – is when they start to take on shades of garnet, blue and purple, depending on the weather. Every year, this takes place at a different time. This change in colour marks the start of a cycle that usually takes about 20 days: the time it takes for the grapes to ripen correctly.
Each of the 22 parcels that make up our vineyard is harvested by hand when it has reached the optimum level of ripeness. Deciding when it is the right moment to start harvesting the grapes is a very important decision that also depends on weather conditions during the previous days. In Viña Lanciano, it starts in the middle of September and can continue through the month of October. Each variety reaches its optimum moment of ripeness at a certain time, and only then do we harvest them by hand, in small crates, to preserve their quality to the maximum.
During autumn, the leaves change colour, and the Riojan countryside is transformed again. In November, the leaves gradually fall and the plants enter a stage of winter dormancy to be reborn again in the spring.