Janus was the Roman god of the doorway, protecting the householders within by looking out on their behalf. January is the month named after him as the god was looking back to the old year and forward to the new year. 2015 has begun tragically in France and we could do with starting it over again. However, we live two lives the public and the private and life goes on for most of us as it ought to do.
I posted in December about pruning in the vineyards and that is very much the principal activity of January too. Vines need to be cut back and the wood (sarments) removed. Some of this wood may be mulched and used for fertilising and enriching the soil. The rest may well be burned and this would certainly be the case if there had been any disease in the vines. The photograph below shows vineyard workers burning sarments in Burgundy in December.
As I said in December pruning is very repetitive, monotonous and back breaking work. In January vignerons need to wrap up warmly to protect them from the cold. Well, that would normally be the case except at the present time in the Languedoc where Jeff tells me that today saw temperatures over 20C and that he is in shirtsleeves!
Meanwhile, strange weather patterns apart, the vines remain sleeping. From the falling of the leaves in autumn (late autumn in 2014!) until the buds break in spring the vines are resting and can withstand temperatures down to about -15C. Pruning means the vines are better prepared to produce healthy grapes in the year ahead. The photograph below shows how some vignerons (in this case in Burgundy) plough soil up next to the vine to help to protect them from frost, a process called cavaillonage.
January 22nd marks the nominal midway point between the falling of the leaves and bud break. It is also the feast day of St. Vincent, patron saint of vine growers and winemakers. Many wine fairs take place around St. Vincent’s day and indeed, France’s biggest organic wine fair (Millésime Bio) will take place from January 26th to 28th in Montpellier, an event I shall be attending. I am looking forward to it immensely. Wine fairs and feasting around the midway point of winter are no doubt a great way for winemakers and vignerons to relax amidst the cold, cruel days of pruning.
Legend has it that St. Vincent’s donkey showed the benefits of pruning. As the saint was talking to vineyard workers his donkey ate the new shoots from the vines. At first annoyed by this the workers noted later in the year that the vines nibbled by the donkey actually produced more and better grapes. Pruning worked!
I am not sure that the story is much consolation to those with aching backs and freezing fingers but January is a month which prepares the way for better days ahead. Let us hope that is true for the vines and for all of us in these troubled times.