The Miracle of Life

Maybe miracle is pushing it a bit, but the start of the growing season is always pretty exciting for me.

It’s been a (relatively) cool, wet winter and spring in the Rhône and everything is a bit behind. This time last year we were eating the first of the new season’s cherries; this year they’re still two or three of weeks away. The winemakers don’t mind at all – the spring rains will give the vines a water reserve to call upon when the temperatures are up near 40°C and the top soil is parched and dusty. A cool, wet autumn, on the other hand, can ruin a year’s work.

My grenache vine, snapped on the 24th April (pre-repotting). The leaves hadn’t been out long, but you can see the first signs of the flower heads.

But what I really wanted to write about was my abundantly healthy grenache vine, which sits in a large pot on my roof terrace. It started off as a discarded branch that I picked off the ground on a walk through the vineyards of Mirabel-aux-Baronnies early last year, the time when the workers go through vines cutting them back in preparation for the new season’s growth. The branch had obviously been snipped only recently – the cut end was still green – so I thought it might be worth planting out to see what would happen.

15 months later and my cutting is now going to produce its first harvest. Purists will tell me that the vine should be allowed to concentrate on producing roots until its third year, that I should get rid of the nascent bunches. Well, having just re-potted it, I can tell you there are plenty of roots. Besides which, I’m not trying to make Châteauneuf-du-Pape up on my roof, just provide some shade. And anyway, I’m too worked up by the thought of picking my own grenache.

An old bush (“gobelet”) vine in Mirabel-aux-Baronnies. Photo’d in November when the leaves have turned red.

Talking of which, I assume that it’s grenache. It’s the variety that makes up well over half of all plantings in the area, including the vineyards of Chateauneuf  and Gigondas as well as the Côtes-du-Rhône of Mirabel, so the chances would be high in any case. But the “mother” vines were being grown “en gobelet”, in other words as bush vines, which is a training system preferred for grenache, whereas the region’s other main grape, syrah, is grown along wires using a method called “cordon de royat” (don’t worry, there’s no exam at the end). And while there are no grapes yet, the leaves have a grenache look about them. But recognising grape varieties is notoriously difficult and if you know better from looking at the photos, please tell me.

The same vine on May 13th. You can see how the flower heads have developed. These will (hopefully) form bunches of grapes.

In the end, though, it doesn’t really matter. Whatever the variety, from stick to grapes in a year seems pretty miraculous to me.



Note: This is the blog of Rhône Wine Tours. There’s more of this sort of thing on our website – www.Rhô – where there are potted biographies of some of “our” winemakers, suggestions for things to do in the region and where, in a fit of extravagant commercialism, we also offer tours and wine tastings. You can also find (and like, bien sûr) Rhône Wine Tours on Facebook, where smaller pieces and photo galleries tend to get posted. You can also follow us on Twitter, but don’t hold your breath for constant news.

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