I just came back from a quick promotional visit to Singapore, and it was a pleasure this morning to be walking in the vineyard of Château Pichon-Longueville Baron again, on a lovely sunny spring day. The vines have developed rapidly over the past week, and we are in the middle of epamprage. Here is a short sequence of photographs to show exactly what is involved.
Vine before epamprage. There is vegetation shooting from all over the vine, which needs tidying up.
Michaël begins the work of cleaning the vine. On the ground you see one or two shoots that have been cut. These shoots were not fruit bearing, and would only have taken the vine’s energy away from the fruit bearing buds, which only grow on the shoots of the previous year. The other buds from the older wood are generally non fruit bearing and are eliminated.
The work progresses. You can see in Michaël’s right hand his rather deadly looking tool, the serpette.
This is the phase of shaving the vine, making sure that the old wood is perfectly clear. Essentially, the shoots that come off the old vine will be non fruit bearing, and have to be eliminated. Try to imagine that this has to be done on every single vine at Pichon Baron, and you will begin to have an idea of the work that this represents. One person can normally do about a quarter of a hectare per day on Merlot vines, or about 2/3rds of a hectare per day for Cabernet-Sauvignon.
A little thinning out of the shoots on the left hand side of the vine.
Satisfaction. The vine has been thoroughly cleaned up. Scroll back to the first picture, to see it as it was. All shoots from the old wood have been eliminated, the fruit bearing shoots at both ends of the guyot double have been thinned out. The vine is now ready to concentrate its efforts on the fruit bearing shoots that remain. Because the clearing up, these will have maximum exposure to the sun, and also good aeration, which could be crucial in periods of humidity, when an un-tidied up vine might easily be subject to rot.
This is the kind of work that has to be done on every single vine, in order to make great grapes for Château Pichon-Longueville.
It is perfectly true that the great wines of Pichon Baron would not be possible without the great terroir that produces them. But sometimes one talks so much about the importance of terroir, that one does not give enough importance to these essential tasks, which require the dedication and the skill of the people who work in the vineyard, and without which the great wine of Pichon Baron would not be possible. When you raise a glass of Pichon, spare a thought for the work that made it possible.