Bordeaux wine seasons
Updated: Jun 28, 2020
We are surrounded by vineyards at Cousserat and one of our criteria when buying our home and gite business in South West France was that we would be able see vines from our windows and garden. There is something soothing about the rows and undulating nature of the vineyards, as well, of course, as the fact that for most of the year they are a beautiful colour. The four seasons of the year provide such a fascinating landscape of the vines that I thought some readers may be interested in a description of the changing outlook here and at the same time learn a few interesting facts and figures about Bordeaux wine.
Interesting fact no. 1: Bordeaux is the largest wine growing region in France, its 115,000 hectares of vines is four times the size of California’s Napa Valley
During the winter it’s hard to believe that the black vine stumps will ever grow into anything resembling a small tree again, let alone produce grapes! They are like rows and rows of little soldiers, standing up straight in long lines. I guess they look like this for only 3-4 months of the year but it sometimes feels like a lot longer than that. The wine farmers are still busy in the winter; in January they begin to prune and choose one shoot on each vine that will provide the grapes for that single vine.
Another interesting fact: Each hectare of vineyard has approximately 10,000 vines – our wine growing neighbour Monsieur Mauro farms about 20 hectares and so has to prune about 200,000 vines; this is all done manually. Imagine doing that for each vine!
I always breathe a big, inward sigh of relief when the vines begin to bud sometime in March because then I know for certain Spring has arrived in Cousserat. Around about April, the vines produce small flowers and shortly afterwards an abundance of lush, green leaves.
By May, they are beginning to look like small trees and the green vista that we are confronted with every morning immediately quells any anxieties I might have had upon wakening (although, thankfully, those are few when waking up here). During the spring season, the farmers start trundling up and down the rows of vines in their tractors, which alternate between grass and soil; this alternation is designed to manage irrigation levels and so the grass has to be mowed and the soil plowed.
185 classified vintages
28,000 vineyard workers
6,000,000 hectolitres harvested
745,000,000 bottles per year
By the peak of the summer, the vines are standing at 7-8 feet tall and they are still a vibrant green. However, of course, by now, the grapes have grown and the bunches of a wide variety of species of white and red grapes hang abundantly on each vine. They are a glorious sight and the wine farmers now keep themselves busy by continuing the jobs they began during spring time but also trim the vines so that the grapes get just the right amount of sun and shade.
Perhaps the most exciting season of the vineyard year as the grapes are harvested, typically beginning with the whites in September and then the reds. There is a mixed sense of tension and giddiness at this time of year because the grapes have to be picked at exactly the right time in terms of temperature, acidity, alcohol levels and so on. This involves a mixture of art and science on behalf of the wine grower. They will notice changes in wildlife, particularly birds; they will taste and feel the grapes but also complete scientific tests. In an AOC* region such as Bordeaux, there are rules and regulations about the levels required of various aspects of the grapes. Grapes are mostly harvested by giant harvesting machines that vibrate so that the ripened grapes fall. Mobile bottling machines are hired by many wine growers; each single vine produces one bottle of wine. At this time of year, the vines turn the most beautiful autumnal colours – we recommend Autumn as one of the best times to stay in our holiday homes because it’s usually still warm and sunny and it’s just a great experience to witness the grape harvest.
Last interesting fact: Just in case you didn't know - these are the bottle sizes you can purchase around and about Cousserat. Saint Émilion is the place to go!
* What is AOC? AOC stands for ‘appellation d’origine contrôlée’, meaning ‘controlled designation of origin’. It is the certification granted to certain French geographical indications for: wines, cheeses, butters, lavender oil, lentils, meat, honey and spirits. So some products in certain regions are given AOC status based on the concept of ‘terroir’ (from ‘terre’, the ‘land’). Terroir is the set of all environmental factors that affect the grape’s growth such as the soil, the weather, the lay of the land, how far apart the vines are planted and so on. The terroir imparts a unique quality that is specific to that site and the wine produced has to be created and developed according to strictly controlled standards.