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From Vine to wine

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Vine husbandry

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The pruning techniques used in Champagne have been strictly regulated since 1938. Champagne is the only AOC to have laid down such a precise and comprehensive set of rules for pruning.

The core vineyard task

Pruning is the most fundamental of all the vineyard tasks. Precise, expert pruning is essential for the quality of the harvest. It regulates growth, promotes productivity and encourages good ripening. Pruning commences immediately after the harvest, as soon as the leaves start to fall, and continues until mid-December. It resumes in mid-January, after the dormant winter period, and continues until late March.

Pruning methods used in Champagne

There are four approved pruning methods.

  • Chablis system : cane pruning, leaving short bud-bearing canes.
  • Cordon system : spur pruning on a single permanent ‘cordon’.
  • La taille Guyot : cane pruning, keeping one cane and one spur per vine (Single Guyot) or two canes and two spurs per vine (Double Guyot and Asymmetric Guyot).
  • La taille Vallée de la Marne ((Pinot Meunier only) : cane pruning (similar to Guyot system).

See the video of pruning

Pruning considerations

Before the first snip of the pruning shears, the winegrower must assess the following factors:

  • The general vigour of the vine.
  • Its balance (number and distribution of buds, vertical or lateral growth habit, overlapping branches, etc).
  • Potential growth rate over the coming year: length of canes and likelihood of overlap with adjacent vines at the tying-up stage, choice of cane to tie-up, etc.
  • The potential need for rejuvenation pruning; evidence, if any, of vigorous new growth; location of primary bud from which new growth arises

Purposes of pruning

Vigour/productivity balance

The first purpose of pruning is to encourage the sap to flow toward the fruit-bearing buds. The buds require an even distribution of sap for vigorous growth but excess sap may compromise productivity. Ideally, there should be a good balance of vigour and productivity – two conflicting requirements that are not easily reconciled.

The choice of pruning method helps to attain this balance. Long-pruned canes restrict the flow of sap, making for a better distribution of sap along the length of the cane, so boosting the vine’s vigour, but preventing excessive flow to the buds, so boosting productivity. Long pruning encourages this process by creating knots that further regulate sap flow.

Le choix du type de taille permet d’atteindre cet équilibre. Avec une charpente longue, la sève circule difficilement. Ainsi, d’une part elle se répartit mieux le long du sarment, ce qui favorise la vigueur, et d’autre part évite les excès d’irrigation des bourgeons, ce qui favorise la fertilité. La taille longue accentue ce phénomène, car elle crée des nœuds qui ralentissent encore la circulation de la sève.

Balancing the shape of the vinee
Pruning gives the vine its shape and prepares it for summer maintenance. The aim is to avoid tightly packed foliage and aim for an optimal leaf area index that allows maximum light penetration and space for air to circulate between the clusters.

Balancing vine lifespan and productivity

 Pruning also determines the vine’s life expectancy, which is shortened by excessive productivity. Regular rejuvenation pruning can solve the problem by stimulating the buds from which new growth will arise to replace old wood.

Tying-up

Tying-up happens in the course of pruning, in early April. The shoots are wound around the supporting wires then attached with paper-covered wire or some other biodegradable fastening. Tying up is done by hand and requires swift, nimble fingers.

Liage de la vigne taillée