The wintering vineyard is an army of brawny wooden posts parading up and down the hillside, in tight row formation. The silhouetted trunks and canes, strikingly skeletal, are all that remain from a season of profuse activity. A cone of silence blankets the vineyard and the stillness is tangible– like the feeling in an empty ballroom after a boisterous party, when the sounds of activity linger like an echo. The vineyard may seem tranquil and serene or withdrawn and taciturn– but always transfixed, unmoving. An occasional hawk, soaring overhead, scanning the ground for a fresh mouse, is the only sign of activity.
Showy extroverts exuding energy in the summer, the vines in winter are sober and introverted, their energy turned inward. We call this period “Dormancy,” but appearance is deceiving. Outwardly passive, having sent its energy back to its roots, this is a time of vital internal activity and recharging. We think of Dormancy as the end of the vineyard year, but it is really the beginning. Deep in the earth, out of our sight, the vines are preparing their reawakening, the next cycle of growth, the next vintage.
Stoic in the face of fierce winter wind and rain that pelts the hillsides, the vines swallow the watery sustenance in giant gulps. Vineyard wildlife hides, and we stay inside, listening to the screech of the wind and the pounding rain, watching the firs bend in the wind, hoping no limbs break off. Between storms, an occasional bluebird appears on the trellis wire, looking wet and forlorn. Their wooden houses, which they left after raising their broods, now shelter them on cold nights.
In mid winter, human activity invades the vineyard as the workers who have been absent since harvest, return. Pruning the previous year’s growth continues for a month. The profusion of bare canes is whittled back to two canes per vine. Where they are working, the chatter and clicks of pruning loppers, breaks the stillness. Through rain, hail, sleet, and snow, the workers slog away, methodically working their way across the vineyard. Where they have worked, the vineyard looks even more barren.The pruned canes are pulled off the trellis and piled in the rows to be chopped when the ground is dry enough for a tractor to get in. The new fruiting canes are tied to the wires.
Then we wait until the first omen of spring appears. Tiny flowers– blue, pink, and white– appear up and down the vineyard rows, braving frosty nights and announcing the The Year in the Vineyard: Winter season. Signs of life along the canes begin to emerge as the pruned vines start dripping sap off the pruning cuts, their lifeblood flowing once again. Grape buds, barely visible all winter, start swelling. The new vintage is about to start.