The vines awaken

PUBLISHED: 12:14 03 April 2009 | UPDATED: 15:54 20 February 2013

Frances Peel welcomes the start of a new year of viticulture

Frances Peel welcomes the start of a new year of viticulture

Frances Peel welcomes the start of a new year of viticulture

'April is the cruellest month' wrote TS Eliot at the start of The Wasteland, one of my favourite poems. I have to admit, though, that I find a lot of it well beyond my understanding and certainly I have always thought of April as one of the most enjoyable months as spring takes hold, the evenings lengthen and the long English winter is put firmly behind us. It is also considered by winemakers in the northern hemisphere as the start of the viticultural year. I have written in the past about Domaine de la Brillane, a stunning Provencal wine estate just north of Aix-en-Provence that is run on organic principles by my old university friend, Rupert Birch. Here is his introduction to the new wine year.

The Vineyard at Domaine de la Brillane

April... is the month when it all starts all over again. After the peace and gentle pace of the winter months, the vines start to wake up in mid April. Tiny shoots at first that burgeon into buds of cotton wool, before the arrival of May and their first real growth spurt. And with those first shoots come the last, late frosts which can decimate a vineyard: particularly the 'black' frosts which arrive between four and five in the morning and disappear leaving behind them blackened shoots and the prospect of a massively reduced harvest. At Brillane the latest we have known these frosts was April 23rd, in 2001, but only 10 per cent of the vines were touched: the older wiser heads say that you are not safe until "la Sainte Glace' at the beginning of May.

And as the vines start growing, so they need their first spraying - the first of a ritual that will be repeated over the next three months at a cadence of eight to 10 days, without fail.

In the cellar - bottling of the latest Cuvée de Printemps and the first attempts at blending the other two cuvées, but on the whole a quieter month, almost as though Nature recognises that starting to need to spend more time out in the vines inevitably leaves you with less to spend in the cellar.

Rupert Birch

Cuvée de Printemps - a delectably soft blend of Brillane's youngest vines, mainly Grenache, is available from Whitebridge Wines at £6-99. For more information on Domaine de la Brillane, look at their website:

Crunch busters

For the past 25 years we have always had a red and a white French, Italian or Spanish red and white as our most inexpensive wine. It is perhaps a sign of the times that we are this spring launching Dudley's Stone Chardonnay/Semillon white and Cabernet/Shiraz red from South Africa is this role: both wines are smooth, well-made blends from the Worcester region and offer fabulous value at £3.99 per bottle.

The unusual grape alphabet

L is for:

Loureira/o - A white grape that is grown in the Galicia region of Northern Spain and also in neighbouring northern Portugal where it is one of the main grapes of Vinho Verde, the famous 'green wine' that is low in alcohol and remarkably refreshing.

Len de l'El - This unusual white grape is mainly grown in the Gaillac region of south-western France where it is obligatory for at least 15 per cent of the blend in Gaillac blanc to be made from this grape, the balance being mainly Mauzac, another obscure grape variety. It produces a rich wine, low in acidity, but its susceptibility to rot however has meant that plantings have declined of late.


Lagrein - A powerful red grape that is grown almost exclusively in the Alto Adige region of northern Italy, close to the Austrian border, where it makes the intense Lagrein Scuro and the fragrant Lagrein Rosato rosé. A small amount of Lagrein has also been planted in Australia where its strong tannins and robust flavours mean that it can be a useful addition to a softer blend.

Spring Tasting

Whitebridge Wines will be holding its 26th Annual Spring Tasting on Friday 8th May 6 - 9 pm and Saturday 9th May from 11- 2pm. Tickets (£10 Friday and £5 Saturday) can be ordered from the office on 01785 817229 or by email to;

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