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Cold, But Not Forgotten – Vineyards in Winter

Crafting elegant sparkling and still wines is truly a year-round labor of love, and few understand this as much as Raymond Reyes, Director of Winegrowing at Domaine Chandon. As the man in charge of Chandon’s crop and land management, he spends the damp, chilly winter months wandering the hillsides of our various appellations, leading highly trained pruning teams and devising a plan to ensure each vintage reaches its full potential.

Raymond ReyesRaymond Reyes - Director of Winegrowing

We recently caught up with Raymond during a brief break between touring properties, fresh soil on his work shoes and enthusiasm in his voice, to discuss the vineyard’s flurry of winter activities.

Maintaining the circle of life.

January represents the beginning of the winegrowing team’s season, with pruning activities taking place throughout all of Chandon’s properties. Raymond’s philosophy about this annual agricultural rite of passage dates back to his children’s younger days, when The Lion King was constantly playing in the VCR.

“I remember that song, ‘The Circle of Life,’ and I equate grape growing as the cycle of life within a grapevine. That cycle starts now. We’re physically sculpting growth for the upcoming year, manipulating the vines, in order to reshape the structure and set the course for yield and grape quality.”

Early in the year, Raymond and his team spend their days in the vines, cutting the plants back to their foundation point in preparation for the next growing season. Simple, right? Hardly. He views this process as an art form. “We’re essentially setting the footprint for a successful harvest later this year, physically manipulating a vine  based on a mental image of how the plant will look in June and July.”

Measure twice, cut once.

The layperson might be surprised to learn how much of Raymond’s time is spent researching and analyzing before anyone picks up a set of shears. To improve upon the prior year’s growing conditions and maintain a natural balance, he’s essentially listening to the vines.

“A grapevine will tell you at this time of year how happy it was last year. You  go out and look at a vine and view the size/diameter of the wood that grew last year. The vine will tell you how balanced it was.”

Raymond can look at a grapevine and quickly know what worked and what didn’t, and sculpt—on a vine-by-vine basis—the plants back to an ideal starting point for the coming growing season.

Thinking outside—and sometimes inside—the box

In the winemaking business, sustainability is more than just a popular buzzword—it’s a way of life, and critical to achieving a successful vintage.

Chandon, in particular, has been at the forefront of adopting “soft” land management practices, including using cover crops to control dust, and mixing brightly colored floral plants in with the vines to attract predatory insects, which limits undesirable bug populations without using insecticides.

Raymond has even recruited help from his feathered friends. “We do a lot with raptors. If you look in our vineyards, you’ll see owl boxes stacked on top of owl boxes. Driving around the vines at night, it’s a treat to see all the owl activity, and then during the daytime, see all the Redtail hawks flying around. We’re providing them a habitat where they can thrive, and in turn they help us keep rodent populations under control.”

As one season ends…

Raymond enjoys the unique ability of winegrowers to achieve annual closure, making mental notes for another successful vintage the following year.

“You have the opportunity to taste a finished product, and learn what worked well in the vineyard and where improvements could be made for the next. You’re closing the book on one vintage and starting to prune for the next. It’s an absolute treat to be involved with that.”

Above all, Raymond’s a firm believer in ongoing education. “Last year was my 26th harvest, and I can tell you, you learn something every year. You have to be able to listen and understand there's always a better way to do something, and that's what makes this job fun, and challenging, and exciting—push, push, pushing to get as good as you can at what you’re doing.”