Leaf plucking time in the Bordeaux vineyards

The ‘effeuillage’ or leaf plucking period is upon us in the vineyards of Bordeaux. The leaves that surround the young bunches of grapes are removed on the side of the morning sun (Northern or Eastern side of the vines) to improve air flow and exposure to the sun’s rays. Only this one side of the vines are removed as the sun is softer in the morning and there is less risk of scorching the grapes in the coming hot months (we hope). This can either be done by hand, which is preferable as the work is much more detailed, or by machine (less expensive but the quality of the work is not the same, something that could make all of the difference this year).

A team of 15 or so workers can ‘effeuille’ 3ha in an hour. This is one of the many tasks (at least ten including pruning, desuckering, raising the wires, …) that take place during the year by hand, which makes producing wine so labour intensive and expensive (particularly now the SMIC minimum pay rate has gone up thanks to the new socialist government in France! Producers have to pay the same amount again to the MSA for the social security payments).

Due to the apparent low yields this year (due to millerandage) producers are thinking hard about the need to do an additional green harvest ‘eclaircissage’ to thin out the bunches of grapes to help with air flow which is important at autumn time when rot is a risk. This further reduces the yield and is costly in terms of labour. This normally takes place at the time of ‘veraison’ when the grapes turn from green to red normally mid-August. Another benefit of doing a green harvest is that the bunches that are still green can be removed as they would not be as ripe at the time of harvest. This may well be an important aid to the quality this year with the flowering that happened in stages on the same vine.

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