Life at Roquefort has been governed for centuries by nature and the seasons for centuries. The aim of vineyard cultivation is to fully express the wealth and diversity of the Château Roquefort terroirs whilst also respecting the natural balance and growth cycle of the grape vinesvine. With this in mind, the estate aims to control yields and produce the very best which nature can offer at every single harvest.
The vine’s natural cycle begins in November after the fruit is harvested. Sugar is stored in the roots, the leaves fall at the first frost, and the vine prepares for the winter. This is the beginning of the vine’s dormancy period which will last until Spring.
During this period, the vines are pruned to increase sap flow to the plant. The quantity and quality of the fruit and the harvest will depend on this key step. The estate’s vineyards are pruned using what is known as the ‘double Guyot’ method, leaving a maximum of 14 to 16 buds per plant depending on the location of the plot. As the French winemaking proverb goes: ‘Taille tôt, taille tard, rien ne vaut la taille de mars’ (prune early, prune late, nothing beats pruning in March).
Trellising is also prepared, maintaining the stakes and wire which will support the branches. In Entre-Deux-Mers, this work is known as ‘sécaillage’.
In March, the vine’s hibernation comes to an end and its growth cycle begins.
This is when the teams start tying and bending: attaching the vine stock to the wires to ensure that they grow straight up, and then pulling the fruit stem back over the horizontal wire to control it and ensure that the vine grows on a single axis.
Along the shoots you can see the buds, each bud consisting of a main bud, a secondary bud, bunches of grapes, and leaves. The buds eventually burst open, a process known as budding.
Work is them completed to aerate the earth and promote air and rainwater circulation towards the roots, along with mechanical weeding.
There are two further steps around April or May: disbudding (removal of non-fruit-bearing buds) and shoot removal, consisting of eliminating infertile branches which have grown on the lower part of the vine and which are drawing up the sap at the expense of other fruiting shoots.
Late May and early June sees flowering, followed by fertilisation and fruit set. Fruit set is when the grapes begin to appear, looking first like a lead ball and then like a pea.
From April to August, the teams closely monitor the vineyard and the risk of disease in order to perform preventative treatments when required to combat vine diseases (mildew, powdery mildew, botrytis), in particular using a natural “Bordeaux mixture” treatment.
July is the month when the fruit truly begins to grow: it remains green until the end of July, followed by the veraison period when it changes colour and becomes softer.
During this period the quantity and distribution of grapes on the vine stock must be evaluated – if nature has been generous, then the number of grapes may be excessive. If this is the case, ‘green harvesting’ is carried out to improve the concentration of aromas in the remaining grapes. In July, leaf thinning can also be performed to boost the fruit’s airation and exposure to the sun, but too much leaf thinning will result in the fruit being sun-scorched! The leaves of the vine provide the grapes with huge amounts of protection. ‘There can be no good grapes without good foliage’! At Roquefort, we do all we can to enable the vine’s fruit to ripen as harmoniously as possible – but this is also dependent on the whims of the weather!
For August is when the local climate does its work…
May to June is also planting time. The estate has chosen to increase the density of its plantations: 5000 vines per hectare for red plots and 4500 vines for white. This effectively boosts competition between the vine plants and thus the wealth and concentration of aromas.
Harvests and winemaking
The harvests begin as soon as the grapes reach optimum ripeness. Each plot is monitored to enable the grapes to be harvested once perfectly ripe, plot by plot, using selective sorting. The decision is taken following physico-chemical analyses and taste tests.
Once the fermentation has finished, the maturation period begins with regular tasting and racking. Maturation lasts from 6 to 18 months and takes place in vats or in French oak barrels for some of our wines. The definitive blend is produced by Frédéric Bellanger and Samuel Mestre a few months before bottling at the chateau. The Roquefort spirit is infused in every one of its wines, celebrating the wealth of its terroirs and the work of its teams.