A Year in the Vineyard: The Ides of March

With the official start of spring, the vines awaken. But that’s not all that’s happening in the vineyard during the month of March.

(The events related to the northern hemisphere, which translates roughly to October/November in the wine regions of the southern hemisphere)

Spring is in the Air

The first day of March marks the official start of Spring – at least from the meteorological perspective (as opposed to the astronomical and solar reckoning according to the vernal equinox, i.e., the instant of time when the plane of Earth’s equator passes through the geometric center of the Sun’s disk, which happens around 20 March). In the vineyard it marks the time when the vine awakens from winter sleep.

Finishing up with Trellising

For the vintners, it means completing pruning if it hasn’t been done in February and getting rid of the pruned wood (for the advantages of late pruning and why old wood shouldn’t be stored in the vineyards, have a look here), plus replacing old posts and repair broken wires where necessary.

Not much happening here, you might think, but...
Not much happening here, you might think, but…

The Bleeding of the Vines

First signs of the vines waking up is the weeping or bleeding of the vines. The soils get warmer and push water up through the root system all the way to the wounds of the pruned vines where it exits, well, making it look like the vine was bleeding or weeping. According to the Oxford Companion to Wine, a single vine can bleed up to 5 litres of water!

Tied to the Wire

Until now the vines have been standing up, but having finished the trellising (repairing the framework of posts and wires), the vines are bent and tied to the lowest wire to get them into the desired shape according to the chosen training system. In general, it aims to make work in the vineyard easier over the course of the year, but is particularly important with regard to canopy management given the effects of global warming.

Bud break in spring (Credit: Pixabay)
Bud break in spring (Credit: Pixabay)

Too early for Bud Break?

During the month of March we are also likely to see the bud break (or débourrement as the French say) – depending on region and climate with some producers further south seeing it happen significantly earlier than those in northern regions and all of this varying as well from year to year a fair bit. The buds begin to swell until shoots grow from the bud and reveal the first leaves of another, hopefully wonderful wine growing season.

Bottling the wine not uncorking it

Back in the winery, March also marks the bottling of many of the young wines – obviously depending on the choice of maturation and the type of wine, though the wine itself still might taste a bit raw and could do with some more time and rest before the bottle actually is opened again.

Why Is It called the Ides of March?

To round things off for March, a fun piece of trivia: March 1st is not only the meteorological beginning of spring. Back in the time of the old Romans it was the beginning of the calendar year for a long time, too. The new consuls of the Roman Republic (after whom the years were named) took office on this day, and the sacred fire was lit in the Temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum. In 153 BC, the inauguration of the consuls was brought forward to January 1st, which has since been considered the beginning of the year. The first day of certain months though were of markers that referred to dates in relation to the lunar phases and were called Kalends. Other such markers were Nones (5th or 7th) and Ides, usually the 13th but in a few months like March the 15th day. Originally known for certain religious festivals and more importantly a deadline day for settling debts, it has become famous forever because of the assassination of Julius Caesar and Shakespeare’s line in his play about the historical event: “Beware the Ides of March”!

A tapestry in the Vatican depicting the Assassination of Caesar (Credit: Pixabay)
A tapestry in the Vatican depicting the Assassination of Caesar (Credit: Pixabay)

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