PRUNING – from November to March
On this operation carried out during the plants’ rest period will depend in part the quality and quantity of the vine’s production. The main method of pruning used in Alsace to harmonise the development of the vine is the GUYOT simple or double pruning system. This consists of leaving on each vine stock one or two shoots of variable lengths. The aim of pruning is to select the wood and to maintain the shape and youth of the vine trunk.
CANE BENDING AND BINDING – from February to mid-April
This work allows the leaves to be distributed and harmonised in a vertical plane and thus to expose the surface of the leaves to the sun. A system of trellising consisting of stakes and stretched wire is used to support the arched vine shoots.
PLANTING – mid-March to mid-May
The vine grower will choose by preference soil that has been deeply ploughed then dried (very little humidity), so that it is dry on the surface to receive the young plants. This can be done manually or mechanically, depending on the lie of the plot. This phase of the work requires an enormous investment in terms of labour and equipment (posts , wire…). The plants used are grafted vines consisting of rootstocks resistant to phylloxera. These young vines will produce a full crop after four to five years.
WORK ON GROWING VINES: DE-BUDDING AND SUCKERING – from April to May
Work on the growing vines consists of eliminating the buds and useless, non-fruit-bearing shoots such as the suckers situated on the lower part of the vine plant, which uselessly consume the sap to the detriment of the old wood. In May, the growth of young shoots prepares for the mist important phase, namely the appearance of the clusters. The potential of the forthcoming harvest can already be evaluated.
TRELLISING AND TOPPING – from mid-May to July
Trellising consists of positioning the shoots upwards whilst holding them between two trellising wire. After flowering in June, the rows of vines must be clean as the shoots must not form a roof over the vines, which could create shade, reduce the exposure of the leaves to the sun and cause bad aeration. Topping means cutting off the ends of the growing shoots in order to even out the trellising. The trellising and topping work is generally done mechanically.
LEAF THINNING – mid-September
Leaf thinning, which is done by hand, consists of eliminating the leaves situated close to the bunches of grapes so as to aerate them and increase their exposure. The grapes can get their fill of sun and the risks of diseases developing are reduced.
Currently the trend is to encourage controlled grass growing. This technique consists of letting the natural flora in the soil grow and controlling it by grinding when the vegetation reaches a height of approximately 20 cm.
This technique makes it possible to take advantages of the benefits of grass growing and also has the added advantage of developing a diversified cover of vegetation which holds the soil down and the water in and also limits the carrying away of nitrates in autumn and in winter.
PHYTOSANITARY PROTECTION – from mid-May to September
This aims to maintain the production potential of the plant at its maximum by fighting against diseases and parasites… It would be damaging to leave the vine without protection during its vegetative phase, especially between the stage when the bunches become visible and the veraison (the beginning of ripening, when the grapes begin to change colour). The vine grower will be more particularly attentive during flowering (June) as well as at the stage when the bunches close. He prepares his spray gun to protect the vines against cryptogamic diseases such as mildew, oïdium or grey mould, but also against the dreaded insects: grape caterpillars, which are a significant pest.
Environmentally-friendly methods of protecting against these diseases and parasites are more and more numerous. For example, sexual confusion, which limits the use of insecticides. This method consists of placing on the plot capsules that diffuse the pheromones habitually given of by females so that the males are confused. This limits mating and therefore reduces the risk of damage caused by the grape caterpillars, which are generally also a source of development of grey mould.
MATURATION – from mid-August to the grape harvest
A period of maturation precedes the grape harvest by 40 to 50 days. The climatic conditions of the months of September and October play an essential role. At veraison, the grapes become elastic and start to colour. The sugar content increases rapidly, the grape loses its acidity. In mid-September, the leaves still present around the grapes can be removed in order to reduce the risk of mould by ensuring the bunch receives an optimum amount of sun.
GRAPE HARVEST – in September and November
The vine grower carefully monitors the ripening cycle. At Cleebourg, maturity inspections are carried out on about fifty plots each using an infrared analyser. This allows us to fix internally the dates the different grape varieties will be brought in once the grape harvest starts.
The teams of grape pickers literally take the vineyards by storm for the grapes are still mainly harvested by hand. It takes approximately 250 hours to pick the grapes of one hectare of vines, which means it takes approximately 30 people to pick the grapes on one hectare in one day.
Crémant d’Alsace is in general harvested about two weeks before the traditional grape harvest, a time when the grapes still have the degree of acidity necessary to make the best product.
Ideally the grape harvest, for AOC Alsace, starts in October. However, a fine autumn might allow the harvesting of the Late Harvest grapes or the Selection of Noble Grapes to take place in November or December.