With the work of producing fruit complete, vines soak up the last of the autumn sun to create energy reserves to store for use in the spring. Once the foliage has dropped, the wood on the vine hardens, and the sap descends to the vines’ roots. It is time for winter pruning to begin.
More than any other event in the cycle of the vine, winter pruning straddles past and future. It is a reflective process during which the winemaker takes stock of the previous seasons and chooses a direction for the year to come. His or her decisions determine the vineyard’s potential to produce fruit for the next summer and influence the quality and character of future wines.
At Château Lafon-Rochet, the Grand Cru estate in the Saint-Estèphe appellation of Bordeaux, winter pruning takes place from mid November to the first days of March. The work is demanding and technical. It requires a deep understanding of the vines and the vision of the château, along with long hours in the field when the region is dark, wet and cold. Château Lafon-Rochet owners, Michel and Basile Tesseron, believe tending their vineyards begins with taking care of their vineyard workers, particularly in the winter months when the bitter weather often leads to stiff muscles and aching bones. Thus, twice a week from November to March, the nine men and five women who comprise their vineyard team meet in the wine cellar at 7:30 a.m. for twenty minutes of Tai Chi with Michel Tesseron and their coach. What has become a treasured ritual has also resulted in fewer injuries and greater overall happiness at work. If the story of wine is the story of the men and women who dedicate themselves to living in tandem with a particular terroir, then this is a truly eloquent argument for adopting a holistic view of what it means to practice sustainable viticulture.