The most fundamental aspect about making wine is all about keeping yields low. How do we define the yield? It is the quantity of wine or grapes produced on one hectare of vines. It is usually expressed in hectolitres(1HL=100L) per hectare(HA)
Yields on the Cote Roannaise:
In our Cote Roannaise appellation, the maximum permitted yield is 66 Hl/Ha.
However it is generaly recognised that the maximum yield that will allow the wine maker to produce a wine that reflects its "terroir" is below 50Hl/Ha. Above this, the wine will merely have a varietal style.
Most wine makers aim to achieve the maximum yield.
At Domaine du Fontenay, we aim to reduce yield as low as reasonnably possible. Our yields have been as follows:
2004: 47.3 HL/Ha---
2003: 11.8 HL/Ha (exceptionnal drought);
2002: 30.1 HL/Ha---
2001: 33.6 Hl/Ha
2000: 53.7 Hl/ha
The official documents which attest of these yields can be shown on demand ( not many wine makers who claim to reduce yields will accept to show these).
Why is it important to reduce yields?
Keeping yields low means that each vine only has to nourish a small number of grapes. A vine with 10 bunches will be able to achieve better maturity( more sugar, less acidity, better colour) than the same vine with , say, 20 bunches. By aiming for a given level of yield , the wine maker will be able to influence the style of his wine to a great degree.
How do we control yields?
We aim to achieve the best compromise between the quantity of grapes per vine and the maturity of the grapes.
At Domaine du Fontenay, we keep our yield under control thanks to:
1- short pruning: we only leave 1 bud per stem when other wine makers will keep 2 (see photo at bottom)
2- then, in May, when the vines start to grow, because Gamay is very vigorous, they tend to generate more buds from the base : we have about 2 weeks to walk around the vineyard to get rid of all the baby buds. The vine has to concentrate on the main buds (that we left when we pruned)
This technique is called de-budding and has 2 main advantages: it reduces yield and also spreads the grapes out. If the grapes are well spread out this will reduce the risk of rot at harvest time.
3- In August, when the grapes start changing colour, we can also use green harvesting if necessary.
When instructing my vineyard workers for this work, I use the image of socks drying on a clothes line. For socks to dry properly they have to be spread out and not all pegged together. The same is true for bunches of grapes.
Once again it is an extremely fastidious job made worse by the fact that the grapes are still green and difficult to see amongst the leaves ( hence the advantage of not having thick and bushy leaf growth ). It inevitably involves losing part of the crop but the advantages easily outweigh this disadvantage. There is always a significant gain in sugar levels and a rot free crop at picking time.