By Cristal Guiet on June 19th, 2023

For the viticulturist and winemaker, the harvest is the culmination of a long year of hard work and though it is considered as being one of the most important events in the year, there is a lot of preparation throughout the year before the harvest can begin.

Here is the story of a year in the life of a winery (Northern Hemisphere).

“In the winegrower’s notebook…
Every month, to your vines, yourself you shall devote
Pruning, training, and leaf thinning, carefully you shall manage
Vine diseases, such as mildew and powdery mildew, you shall prevent
The growth cycle, you shall respect
The weather, you shall monitor
Fruit set and colour change, you shall watch out for
The harvest date, you shall decide.”
credit: Vins de Bordeaux
Twelve months make a year


March is typically divided into two parts. The first half of the month is spent carrying out the final spring preparations.

Once the danger of frost is past, new vines are planted to replace those vines that have died or become seriously diseased (and cannot be treated) and have required uprooting during the winter.

New vineyard plots will also be planted. During the second half of the month, The sap will begin to rise in the vines as they slowly start to “wake up”.

The beginning of the new growing season is just around the corner and the viticulturist bustles around the vineyards plowing the soil, better aerating it so that the rain can deeply penetrate easily, fertilizers and organic matter will be added to help accelerate the growth of the vines.

The trellises are given a final examination and once any repairs are completed the viticulturist will attach the vines to the stakes and put the wires back in place as this sort of maintenance will no longer be possible once the vines start growing. In the cellar, the winemaker will start to bottle wines that have very short aging periods and begin releasing them on the market.

The buds slowly begin to form on the vines. The soil that has been piled at the base of the vines in December will be smoothed out into the center of the rows of the vineyard either with a plow or by hand depending on the winery.

If the soil is clay based this involves breaking the clay clods apart that have been compacted once the water has evaporated.

April is a tense month for a viticulturist as the constant threat of frost can cause extensive damage to the newly developing shoots and buds of the vines.

Not only the vines but the other ground cover crops will grow at a rapid pace and preventative measures to protect the vines against diseases and insect infestations are applied.

BudsPhoto Courtesy: Vins de Bordeaux

May sees an increase in the growth of vines and budburst.

Once the budburst has occurred, the vine shoots grow very rapidly, they must be managed properly.

The branches grow exceptionally fast between 5 and 15 centimeters a day!

The growing shoots have to be continually lifted and trellised before they are trimmed.

The viticulturist must work efficiently to keep up with the growing shoots and removes the excess buds and branches to alleviate vine weight as it can affect the quality of the final harvest.

No vineyard grows an ideal canopy so this must be managed through correct positioning of the shoots as well as thinning the shoots as needed.

However, there is still the threat of late frost and it is important to protect the vines as much as possible. A late frost can potentially destroy the future harvest which means that it is a very stressful time for the viticulturist who spends long sleepless nights in an effort to ensure that the vines survive any weather disasters.

In the winery, the wines continue aging and any bottling that needs to be carried out from former harvests will take place.


The reproductive cycle truly begins in June and the vineyards are now in full bloom, the tiny embryos in the grape clusters are pollinated and fertilized, an essential process to ensure the formation of the fruit.

Again severe weather is a constant worry, hail, and bad storms can be very detrimental during the pollination process, it if is too cold and there is excess precipitation, the risk of Coloure (fruit can fail to set fully and cause irregular grape bunches) and Millerandange (stunted berry growth) will impact the harvest which is only now only a couple of months away.

Formation of fruitPhoto courtesy: Vins de Bordeaux

Typically July is a very hot month and it is important to ensure that the grapes have a proper balance of shade and sun exposure.

Canopy management continues as the viticulturist protects the future harvest. Any intervention in the vineyards is carried out using conservative measures and is dependent on the mode of production and the agricultural techniques that are used by the property (Organic, Biodynamic, etc).

By this time the winemaker has a good idea of when the grapes will reach optimal ripeness and can even predict the harvest date.

Once there is fruit set, the viticulturist will thin out the leaves on the east-facing side of the vines and green harvest to remove any excess grape bunches that he/she deems necessary to produce perfect fruit.

Véraision (ripening) may start to take place occur late in July if the fruit is far enough along in its growth cycle.

Véraision begins in earnest in August, the hottest month of the year.

The viticulturist will carry out ongoing canopy management, trimming back additional leaves around grape clusters that are ripening unevenly to ensure that they have adequate exposure to the sun.

The vines are now so concentrated on the production of fruit, all other growth ceases, and the new shoots slowly transform into a brown color.

Again it is a time of long days and sleepless nights, grapes are inspected by the winemaker who makes daily trips to different vineyard plots and decides when the harvest will commence.

If the year has been particularly hot, the harvest might begin in mid to late August if the grapes are deemed ready.

Weather is checked daily it plays a critical role in the decision-making process as storms and excess rain can very quickly destroy a crop and if the weather is threatening, the winemaker sometimes is forced to make the uncomfortable decision of harvesting the grapes before they have reached optimal ripeness to avoid loss.

In the winery, any repairs to the winemaking equipment have been attended to, and all equipment has been cleaned and is ready for use. Extra seasonal winery and grape-picking staff have been engaged to assist with the harvest and winemaking activities.


autumnPhoto Courtesy:

In the first few weeks of September, the harvest is in full swing. Depending on the size of the vineyard surface, the weather conditions, and the grapes that are being produced, the harvest can last anywhere from one to three weeks or longer.

For producers that hand harvest, the team of expert pickers hand harvest the grapes and transport them gently to the winery in 15 kg boxes where they will be carefully sorted again by hand before being sent to the press.

The white varietals are harvested before the red as they tend to ripen first, with the exception of any plots that have been designated at “late harvest”.

Those grapes will stay on the vines for another one or two months depending on how much Botrytis Cinerea (noble rot) the winemaker desires. The grapes that are destined for sparkling wine will be harvested first as they have high acidity (essential for long-term aging as well as for the freshness of younger wines).

The grapes must be picked at the right moment otherwise they are susceptible to over-ripening and will produce wines that do not have balanced flavours.

The lighter reds will follow and then the rest of the red grapes that take longer to mature and ripen.

During the harvest, the winemaker is once again plagued by sleepless nights as he/she constantly directs a nervous eye towards the heavens dreading the pitter-patter of excess rain which can lead to, mold, rot, fungus, as well as possible dilution of the flavors that have been so carefully nurtured throughout the growing season.

Winemakers often have to dodge unexpected weather conditions meaning that the exact date of harvest may be altered slightly should inclement weather interfere with their plans.

The weather is even more crucial as the final grapes are harvested as any delay caused by wet conditions can lead to the necessity of picking the grapes earlier than is optimal to avoid loss.

'It's possible to make very bad wine with good grapes, but it's impossible to make great wine with bad grapes!”
Winemaking Proverb

Depending on how hot the summer has been, October is usually when the last plots of red grapes are harvested, but if it is an exceptionally hot year then the main harvest will already be over.

In either case, the work at the winery is full-on and there is a careful balance maintained between the completion of the harvest and the careful preparation and monitoring of the freshly pressed grape juice that is fermenting in the vats.

The operation is running 24/7 and a combination of full-time and hired staff in the vineyards and winery are working hard in the hopes that the harvest and subsequent vintage will bring them financial prosperity.

The temperature in the fermentation vats has to be kept at the right temperature and there is someone that is monitoring the fermenting grape juice at all times.

November will see the final part of the harvest completed, including any late-harvest botrytized (noble rote) grapes that will be destined for the fabrication of sweet wines.

Once the harvest is completed the external workers will return home until the next year and the winemaking team will continue to monitor the fermenting wines.

With the harvest finally complete, most of the focus is in the cellar where the fermenting wines are monitored constantly to ensure that they are developing correctly.

Any challenges that may have arisen during the harvest that might have an impact on the quality of the final fruit will be addressed and adjustments will be made to ensure that a good wine will be produced.

If the vines have already gone into hibernation, some viticulturists return to the vineyard to start pruning the vines in preparation for the next season.

When December arrives, the fermentation of the wines with the exception of Late Harvest wines will be complete.

The newly fermented wines will undergo an extensive evaluation by the winemaker who will then decide the destiny of each wine, (will it be for immediate consumption, bottled as a single varietal, or be part of a blend).

Each wine is then transferred into an appropriate aging vessel.

The winemaker will continue to monitor each wine to see how it is metamorphosing.

If the harvest has produced perfect grapes, then the winemaker will have the joy of creating some exceptional wines and may even choose to create special bottlings from individual plots of vineyards that are in their own echelon of extraordinary quality.

Content that the vintage is developing nicely, the winemaker may even have the luxury of a long restful night's sleep and reconnect with friends and family after several months spent non-stop in the winery.

In the vineyard, the viticulturist will begin preparing the vines for the next vintage which might include spraying the vine wood with copper sulfate to remove any fungus that developed over the past year.

Unwanted weeds will be removed and soil will be tilled to allow the rains of winter to be better absorbed.

Buttage (or tilling close to the vine bases) is practiced in colder climates to protect the roots of the vines from freezing.

Depending on the weather conditions, this is also the time when the viticulturist will begin the annual pruning of the vines which includes most of the one and two-year-old wood being cut along with as necessary older wood.

When the new year rolls in the vines are deep in sleep, and the green shoots of last summer have converted to dry wood. The vine has stored its energy in its trunk and roots and it is in January that the pruning if not already started will begin.

Fermentation of winePhoto courtesy: Wine Enthusiast Magazine

22 January is St Vincent's Day (the patron of wine) and there are some viticulturists that will only begin the pruning after this date.

However, it is the weather, not the dates that dictate the work in the vineyard.
Pruning is a lengthy and tedious task but it is the foundation that will determine the success of the next vintage.

The process is designed to determine the number of buds that will be available for the following year's harvest and plays an important role in the grape yield which will ultimately determine the quality of the wine in the subsequent harvest.

Wine storing Photo Courtesy: Vins de Bordeaux

As the pruning finally reaches completion, the vines continue to rest through February.

The pruned wood that has been dropped between the vine rows is removed once the pruning is complete.

The dead vines are either burned or shredded, and this organic matter is added back into the soil of the vineyard adding much-needed minerals.

Winter is also the perfect time to make any repairs and improvements around the winery buildings when the workload is a bit quieter.

The care of a vineyard and work in the winery is continuous, there are many tasks throughout the year that will determine the successful outcome of the growing season (unfortunately the weather cannot be controlled but most other aspects of vineyard care can).

The culmination of these activities is the harvest which is considered as being the most important time of the year.

Endless hours are spent both in the winery and the vineyards to ensure that all elements come together to create the final result - wine.


Author: Cristal Guiet

Cristal has more than twenty three years of experience in the wine industry. In addition to creating wine lists in Michelin three-star restaurants, working with prestigious London wine merchants, and starting her own wine tourism company in France, Cristal has been writing about wine for over fifteen years. She holds the Advanced degree from Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and resides in London.

What is the yearly cycle of a Winery?

Want more wine content like this?

Jump on board and get other great content all about Texas and wine.