Aude (from TheRLWS 'Bon Vivants' Spring Class 2022) sends us this wonderful report on how she has learnt the art of debudding (ébourgeonnage). She helped her brother who runs the family winery Domaine Berthelemot in the in Côtes de Beaune, Burgundy, France May 2023 and gives this lovely account.
Debudding in the spring season is essential to curb the vines’ vegetative growth and enable the plants to focus on the growth and potency of their fruit. Without this process, the shoots left on the vines would absorb mineral and water vital for growth, negatively affecting the quality of the harvest.
Spring marks the shift from winter hibernation to reawakening with buds coming out, flowering, and the first signs of fruit appearing. As many parts of France were hit with spring frost killing an endless number of buds in 2022, it is a joy to see that spring frost was much less damaging in 2023 leaving the vines and buds in a good condition. Touch wood (no pun intended), the weather will be holding up with no hail or extreme weather until the harvest season.
Photo: shoot-trimming in Clos des Mouches in May 2023.
Right before the flowering season, shoot-trimming is a key step to prepare the vines to further grow grapes. In Burgundy, high density of vines is necessary to get economic yields as the soils are less vigorous. Per Wine Decoded, “a typical vine in Burgundy yields 500 grams of fruit, compared to 2.5k per vine in a low yielding Australian vineyard”. For many centuries, vine growing was done by hand and using horses in many French regions. This also explains why the spacing between vines is narrower as no machinery existed back in the day. Vines are carefully planted in one metre wide rows, one metre apart, meaning that there are 10,000 vines per hectare.
Photo: Clos des Mouches vineyard, Beaune, Burgundy, France.
The Burgundian vines being on the small side, it is even more important to carefully select the shoots that will yield the best fruit.
Photo: Debudding in Clos des Mouches.
Single Guyot training is typical of the Côte de Beaune region. Wine makers typically leave a maximum of 8 to 9 buds on each vine.
Photo: Single Guyot training vine in Clos des Mouches.
Vine growing methods in Burgundy vary between single Guyot training that involves one “courson” with two eyes and a “baguette” and Guyot-Poussard training where the vines have two arms: one with a “courson”, one with a “courson” and a “baguette”. Each year, wine markers alternate the side of the baguette. A courson is one spur that was pruned in the winter season with two eyes/buds and a baguette is a cane that was typically left with eight eyes.
Photo credit: Sicavac.
As part of the shoot-trimming process, the first step is to remove herbs surrounding the vines so you can see the integrity of the plant. The photo below shows a vine before weeding:
Photo: vine before weeding
Next up, clearly identify the coursons. Aim to leave 2 buds per courson. If there are two coursons on the vine, leave 4 buds on the cane/baguette. If there is one courson on your vine, you can leave 6 buds on the baguette. In the photo right below, you can see a vine with two coursons: one at the back, one at the front. The courson towards the front only had one shoot. In this example, I could leave 5 shoots on the baguette instead of 4 in order to have a total of 8 shoots on the vines.
Photo: vine plant with two coursons
It is possible to leave a bud that is positioned elsewhere on the vine (called “groumand”), as long as it spares enough space and air for other buds to develop. Spot the gourmand in the photo below. We removed it as it was located too low down the plant.
Photo: Single Guyot vine before removing a “gourmand”
It is important to remove buds on the canes that may block buds from coursons from growing. A key step in the process also involves only leaving one growing bud when you see two shoots within the same bud (called “double bourre”).
Photos: Above: an example of a “double bourre”. Below: same vigne after the “double bourre” was removed.
Seasonal workers are often hired during the spring and summer seasons to complete the groundwork ahead of harvesting season. Wine markers typically share instruction sheets with seasonal workers to ensure the quality of the work.
Photo credit: Domaine Berthelemot
If I haven’t lost you with too many French words, here’s a final fun fact for you. The Burgundians have many, many ways to say shoot-trimming. Ebourgonnage is one of them, but you will often hear épamprage, échetonnage, échtinage, évasivage to mention a few.
Shoot trimming is a wonderful way to get a deeper understanding of the lifecycle of a vine plant and the wine making process. It is a tiring job but it is fascinating to see shoots and grapes in the making at this stage in the season.
If you look close enough, you’ll spot a baby grape right next to me. Thanks for reading!