Last week we planted a single parcel of nearly 3 hectares, or 7.5 acres, with a zillion new sauvignon blanc vines, just behind the winery (or chai) at Château Bauduc. A specialist team of 14 people did the whole job in a few days, from tracing out the block, knocking in the small supporting posts, digging the holes and planting the baby vines.
We had ripped the old vines after the 2006 harvest, and then worked hard to get the terrain in the right condition for the new plants. The plan was to plant earlier in the spring but it has been so wet it’s been difficult to prepare the ground properly. It turns out that this has worked in our favour, in that several growers have had problems with vines going in too early and having problems with too much rain or late frosts in April.
The block was previously planted up with red varieties – mostly cabernet sauvignon but some merlot – in 3 metre wide rows, at around 3000 vines per hectare. With such a low density relatively, we had too many bunches per vine for the fruit to ripen properly, unless we cut the crop back to non-viable levels. Worse still, the vines were planted on a vigorous rootstock called SO4, which was å la mode when the Bay City Rollers were strutting their stuff. The theory back then was less vines = less work, compensated by vigorous vines producing plenty of fruit. Trouble is, it also equals unripe, dilute fruit. Ergo, shite wine. In those days, the French could scrape a living selling nasty, cheap wine (some might argue that this is still the case, all too often, at the bottom end of the scale, given the pressure from supermarkets).
It’s a relatively simple task to rip it up and start again, but it takes time, conviction and plenty of money. Or, in our case, a cunning plan called the Bauduc Bond, but that’s another story.
This brings the total replanting to just over half the entire 30 hectare vineyard in just 8 years, which is less than ideal, financially speaking. We have re-planted both red and white, with emphasis on having the right varieties on the right spot. After seeing the cabernet struggle here even in hotter years, it was time to call it a day. Don’t get me wrong, I love cabernet sauvignon. But from the great gravel mounds along the edge of the Gironde, or from Coonawarra or Margaret River, or from Napa. Just not in this cool spot facing east at Bauduc. Fingers crossed that it’s right for sauvignon blanc.
All the new vines are planted on less vigorous rootstocks (the romantically named 3309 and 101-14, for those of you who are into this sort of thing). We’re using different clones of sauvignon, including 905 and 906. The density in this block is 1.8m x 1m, or 5550 vines per hectare, and in some other parcels the density is over 6000 vines per hectare. In broad terms, that means that each vine will eventually produce enough grapes to make one bottle of wine, rather than two. (The maximum yield is 5000 litres per hectare, or 6600 bottles.)
All we have to do now is look after the vines properly – starting with watering them individually – and wait for three years before we’re allowed to use the grapes. Next year, we’ll put up the posts and the trellising wires.