January 2017 – In recent days, as a cold snap has swept across France, a delicate layer of ice has begun to cover the vineyards of Château Palmer. A white frost.
Surrounded by this silent nature, the vignerons have begun pruning the vines and carrying out an ensemble of winter duties; tasks with names like sécaillage, acanage and pliage.
Sécaillage, for example, refers to the upkeep of vine trellising, and consists of replacing broken stakes and repairing and retightening the guide wires which will support the vine in the year to come.
Acanage, or training, involves tying each vine trunk to its marker (a small stake) and the guide wire. This practice stabilizes the vines before the soil is worked. To provide the vine sufficient support it will need to be secured in three places: first around the trunk and then around each of its two branches. This winter task generally starts one or two weeks after the beginning of pruning. This year, we began training in mid-December.
At Château Palmer, the vines are trained using willow stems – sometimes called “withes” in English, or vimes in French – an ancestral method never abandoned here. The bond it creates is at once durable and natural. Depending on weather conditions, a willow knot can last between two and three years. When one eventually gives out, it simply falls to the ground, decomposing naturally in the soil, to be replaced by another.
To tie a willow knot, the vigneron wraps a willow stem around a vine trunk or a branch. Next she or he intertwines the ends of the stem together, and then bends one end of the stem back against the trunk or branch to ensure its hold. The other end of the stem is then clipped off. During the winter season, this series of movements is repeated, swiftly and assuredly, around 200 times a day by a vigneron.
Finally, pliage (literally “folding”), consists of bending down and binding to the guide wire each of the future fruiting canes (mature vine shoots selected and kept in place during pruning). The number of canes will depend on the vigour of each vine. At Château Palmer we generally preserve two.
So many intricate, meticulous tasks, realized by women and men of such rigour and patience… it’s thanks to them that, when the frost recedes and spring returns, the vineyards will awaken anew.