Cult Insider

EDITION 019 | MAY 2024


An In-Depth Exploration into the Lifecycle of a Grapevine

Written by - Cult Wines Team

Grapevines, while generally hardy, require meticulous care to produce high-quality wines. These intricate plants undergo numerous transformations throughout the year, each step crucial in developing the grape, the key ingredient in winemaking. As we enjoy this year's Bordeaux En Primeur season, it is interesting to explore what comes before the bottle or, indeed, the barrel to understand the complex lifecycle of the grapevine, in stages, from bud to bloom.

Grapevine Fundamentals

Grapevines are perennial plants, meaning they grow and bloom in the spring and summer, then die back in autumn and winter, only to re-emerge from their rootstock the following spring. Left to grow naturally, a grapevine would develop into a dense, tangled mass of leaves and branches. Therefore, careful management is necessary to encourage the vine to produce fruit efficiently.

There are about 60 grapevine species, but most of the world's wines come from one species: Vitis vinifera. This species is particularly prized for its ability to produce a wide variety of wine grapes with distinct flavours and characteristics. The first year of a grapevine's life is dedicated to building nutrient reserves, with fruit production for winemaking typically beginning in the third year. After around 30 years, the vine reaches full maturity and produces fruit less vigorously. Some vineyards may label these as 'old vines,' although no official age definition exists for this term.

Lifecycle Shifts Across the World's Wine Regions

Grapevines are cultivated in diverse regions around the globe, each with unique climates and conditions that influence the timing, grape varieties grown, and the quality of the wine produced. Each world's most renowned wine region follows its own seasonal cycle.

Northern Hemisphere

Wine regions located in the Northern Hemisphere include France (Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne), Italy (Tuscany, Piedmont), Spain (Rioja, Ribera del Duero), and the USA (California). In these regions, bud break typically occurs in March or April, with the harvest from September to October. For example, Bordeaux and Burgundy see bud break in March and harvest in September, while Champagne's cooler climate causes a slightly delayed cycle, starting in April.

Southern Hemisphere

Significant wine regions in the Southern Hemisphere include Argentina (Mendoza), Chile (Central Valley), Australia (Barossa Valley, Yarra Valley), and South Africa (Western Cape). The growing season begins with bud break in September, and the harvest occurs from March to April.

Timing Variations and Their Impact

The timing of grapevine stages varies within regions due to local climatic conditions. Coastal areas may experience milder winters and earlier springs compared to inland regions, affecting bud break and harvest times. In the Northern Hemisphere, spring frosts during bud break are risky, particularly in regions like Burgundy. In contrast, Southern Hemisphere regions might face challenges such as early autumn rains affecting the harvest.

The seasonal offset between the hemispheres allows for a continuous global supply of fresh wines and provides opportunities for winemakers to travel and exchange knowledge across regions. Understanding these timing and regional differences highlights the intricate balance required in viticulture and the unique characteristics of wines from different parts of the world.

Stage 1: Dormancy

Northern Hemisphere: December-March
Southern Hemisphere: July-September

During dormancy, following leaf fall after the harvest, grapevines appear as mere woody twigs. Internally, minimal activity occurs during this winter period, but significant tasks are undertaken by winemakers, including pruning the previous year's canes and selecting the best canes for new shoots. Pruning is crucial for managing the vine's growth and ensuring the plant's health. In very cold regions, vines may be buried to protect them from severe weather. This practice, known as "hilling up," involves covering the vine's base with soil to insulate it from freezing temperatures.

Stage 2: Bleeding & Bud break

Northern Hemisphere: March-April
Southern Hemisphere: September-October

In early spring, sap from pruning cuts, known as 'bleeding,' signals the start of bud break and the vine's lifecycle. This sap flow is a positive sign indicating that the vine is coming out of dormancy and beginning to transport nutrients again. The initial buds are incredibly delicate, making them vulnerable to spring frosts, which can be devastating, as seen during the 2016 hailstorms in Beaujolais, France. To mitigate frost damage, some vineyards employ methods such as using wind machines, heaters, or even spraying water to create a protective layer of ice on the buds.

Stage 3: Shoot & Leaf Growth

Northern Hemisphere: March-May
Southern Hemisphere: September-November

As temperatures rise, new shoots emerge and grow rapidly. Some viticulturists prune downward-facing shoots to ensure upward growth, which reduces crop size but enhances quality, as fewer grapes typically lead to more concentrated flavours. This practice, known as "shoot thinning," helps the vine allocate resources more efficiently to the remaining shoots. However, frost remains a risk during this period, and growers must remain vigilant.

Stage 4: Flowering & Fruit Set

Northern Hemisphere: May-June
Southern Hemisphere: November-December

With the onset of summer, buds produce inflorescences or flower clusters that eventually bloom. These 'perfect flowers' self-pollinate without the need for bees. The fertilised ovary develops into green berries, a process called fruit set. Optimal weather during flowering is crucial; excessive rain can lead to "flower drop" or "shatter," where flowers fail to develop into berries, significantly reducing yield. The success of this stage is critical for determining the potential size and quality of the harvest.

Stage 5: Veraison & Ripening

Northern Hemisphere: July-September
Southern Hemisphere: January-March

This stage sees the most significant activity in the vineyard as vine shoots mature and veraison occurs, where green berries change colour and begin to ripen. White grape varieties turn yellowish, while red varieties transition from green to red or purplish-blue, depending on the type. This colour change is due to the breakdown of chlorophyll and the accumulation of anthocyanins in red grapes or carotenoids in white grapes. Post-veraison, seeds are fully formed, acidity is high, and sugar levels are low. Some winemakers might thin the crop before veraison to concentrate the vine's energy on fewer grapes, a process known as "green harvesting."

Stage 6: Harvest

Northern Hemisphere: September-October
Southern Hemisphere: March-April

The harvest is the culmination of the grapevine's yearly cycle. Once the grapes are fully ripened, they are harvested either by hand or machine, depending on the vineyard. Hand harvesting allows for selective picking and minimal damage to the grapes, while machine harvesting is faster and more cost-effective. The timing of the harvest can vary based on the growing season's progression and is increasingly influenced by climate change. Precise timing is crucial, as it affects the sugar, acid, and tannin levels in the grapes, all of which influence the final wine's character.

Stage 7: Post-Harvest

Although grapes cease to ripen post-harvest, grapevine leaves continue to photosynthesise if temperatures remain warm. This period is critical for the plant to accumulate carbohydrates for future growth. Vines adapt to the cold as temperatures drop, converting sugars to starch stored in roots and trunks. After leaf fall, vines further acclimatise to colder weather, ceasing carbohydrate accumulation and eventually entering winter dormancy, and so the lifecycle continues. This stage is vital for the vine's health and productivity in the coming year and its long-term resilience.

Understanding the lifecycle of a grapevine provides insight into the meticulous care and precise timing required to produce exceptional wines. Each stage, from dormancy to harvest, plays a vital role in shaping the final product that ends up in your glass. The intricate balance of environmental conditions, vineyard management practices, and timing underscores the complexity and artistry involved in viticulture.


News in brief

News 1


North American Wine Sales Exceed Expectations

New figures from BMO Financial reveal that North American wine demand is stabilising post-pandemic, with growth potential. The inaugural industry survey shows wineries saw sales peak during the pandemic but faced a decline to 377 million cases last year. 71% of US producers anticipate increased sales driven by innovation, direct-to-consumer sales, and premiumisation. Despite some headwinds, such as health concerns among younger demographics, the sector remains optimistic, particularly for wines priced above $10. Premium wine sales are projected to grow through 2025, with smaller wineries and high-end producers expecting significant gains.Threads: AA to complete

News 1


Truro Wine Merchant Exclusive Distributor of Italian Wines in a Can

Old Chapel Cellars in Truro has secured a unique position as the sole distributor of The Copper Crew's new range of canned Italian wines in Cornwall. This achievement follows their recognition as the UK's first B-Corp wine merchant and their recent accolades in Harpers Wine & Spirits' 50 Best Indies list. The Copper Crew's eco-friendly canned wines feature vegan-friendly, organic options from Italy's Puglia region. Old Chapel Cellars, known for their commitment to sustainability, also offers canned wines from partners Canned Wine Co. and The Uncommon, along with local low-alcohol beverages. Their refillable wine bottle service further underscores their dedication to reducing environmental impact.

News 1


South African Wine Industry Overcomes 2024 Harvest Challenges

The South African wine industry demonstrated remarkable resilience in the face of significant climatic challenges during the 2024 harvest, including frost, heavy winter rainfall, floods, and strong winds. Despite these adversities, the dry harvest period promises high-quality wines for domestic and international markets. The harvest yielded 1,099,051 tonnes, a 7% decrease from 2023, effectively managing stock levels amidst robust demand. The industry reports excellent grape quality, particularly for full-bodied red wines and fresh white wines. South Africa, a key player contributing 4% of global wine production, is focused on value growth through reinvestment and collaboration, underscoring its commitment to producing world-class wines.


Jessie Wu, Client Account Manager - Cult Wines - Terroir Al Limit Soc. Lda. Pedra de Guix 2017

What we’re drinking

Terroir Al Limit Soc. Lda. Pedra de Guix 2017

Jessie Wu, Client Account Manager - Cult Wines

Terroir Al Limit is not just a winery but a passionate advocate for the Mediterranean context, deeply rooted within the historic Priorat region. With a rich winemaking tradition, Priorat’s culture and terroir are profoundly influenced by the Mediterranean climate. At Terroir Al Limit, their mission is to craft wines and create works of art that emphasise elegance rather than the typical heaviness associated with Priorat wines. They achieve this by focusing on infusion rather than extraction, a dedication that is evident in every bottle they produce.

The white 2017 Pedra de Guix is a captivating blend of Pedro Ximénez, Garnacha Blanca, and Macabeo grapes sourced from the villages of Lloar, Torroja, and Poboleda, respectively. This wine pays homage to Jerez and stands out for its freshness and vibrant acidity compared to previous vintages. Fermented in concrete vats with indigenous yeasts, it matured in seasoned 1,800-liter oak Foudres. Despite its oxidative character, the 2017 vintage spent less time in old oak, resulting in a livelier, fresher profile.

Notes of nuts and abundant raisins harmonise with elegance, while the palate remains austere, featuring chalky tannins and a dry, almost salty finish. Unusual and ethereal, this white is a delightful departure from convention. James Suckling gave it a 95 score, with a splendid tasting note of dried lemon, mango, and salty undertones, which is also full-bodied and layered, offering intense flavours and character.


Our fine wine feature

The Central Role of London in the Global Fine Wine Market

Written by - Paul Declerck, Relationship Manager - Cult Wines

London has long been recognized as a global hub for the Fine Wine market. A commonly cited statistic suggests that 89% of the world's fine wines pass through London before reaching their final destination. This figure, while staggering, underscores London's influential position in the wine trade, driven by historical, economic, and logistical factors. This article explores the reasons behind London's dominance in the Fine Wine market and the implications of this role for the global wine industry.

Historical Significance

London's prominence in the Fine Wine market is rooted in its historical role as a significant trading centre. The city's wine trade dates back to Roman times when London, known as Londinium, was a key port. The trade flourished during the Middle Ages, establishing trade routes connecting London to the wine regions of France, Spain, and Portugal. The British aristocracy's demand for high-quality wines further entrenched London's role as a key wine market.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, London became the heart of the wine auction market, a tradition that continues today.

The Central Role of London in the Global Fine Wine Market

Auction houses such as Christie's and Sotheby's have built a reputation for auctioning some of the most prestigious wine collections in the world. These auctions attract collectors and connoisseurs from across the globe, cementing London’s status as a central exchange point for fine wines.

Economic Factors

Economically, London's status as a global financial centre has significant implications for its role in the fine wine market. The city's economic infrastructure supports a vibrant market for Fine Wine Investment. Wealthy individuals and institutional investors view fine wines as a viable asset class, contributing to London's robust secondary market for wine. This investment potential is bolstered by wine investment funds, storage facilities, and insurance services, all of which facilitate the buying, selling, and safeguarding valuable wine collections.

The concentration of wealth in London and the city's sophisticated financial services sector, attract many high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) who are critical players in the Fine Wine market. These individuals often rely on London-based wine merchants, brokers, and auction houses to source rare and valuable wines. As a result, a large proportion of the world's fine wines transit through London, either physically or via ownership transfers, before reaching their final consumers.

Logistical Advantages

Logistics also play a crucial role in London's dominance in the fine wine market. The city's strategic location and world-class transport infrastructure make it an ideal gateway for wine distribution. London’s airports and seaports handle a significant volume of wine imports and exports, facilitating the efficient movement of wine across international borders.

Furthermore, London is home to state-of-the-art wine storage facilities, such as Octavian Vaults and London City Bond. These facilities provide optimal conditions for the ageing and preservation of Fine Wines, ensuring they remain pristine until they are ready to be enjoyed. The availability of such high-quality storage options attracts wine collectors and traders, reinforcing London's role as a key transit point for fine wines.

Cultural & Educational Impact

Culturally, London has fostered a deep appreciation for fine wine, supported by a wealth of educational resources and institutions. The city hosts numerous wine events, tastings, and festivals that attract enthusiasts from around the world.

Educational institutions such as the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and the Institute of Masters of Wine offer renowned programs that educate and certify wine professionals, further enhancing London’s reputation as a centre of wine expertise.

This cultural emphasis on wine appreciation and education creates a vibrant community of knowledgeable consumers, traders, and collectors who contribute to the dynamic nature of London’s Fine Wine market. The city's wine culture is characterized by a blend of tradition and innovation, where historical appreciation meets modern trends and tastes.

London's preeminent position in the Fine Wine market results from a confluence of historical, economic, logistical, and cultural factors. The city's rich history in wine trading, its status as a global financial centre, strategic logistical advantages, and vibrant wine culture collectively ensure that a significant proportion of the world's fine.


Explore & travel

Behind the Scenes in Bordeaux for En Primeur 2023

Written by - Cult Wines Investment Committee

En Primeur in Bordeaux is an annual event where wine professionals, critics, and enthusiasts gather to taste and discuss the latest vintage of Bordeaux wines before they are bottled and released to the market.

The unique En Primeur release system allows buyers to secure sought-after wines at advantageous prices, providing crucial cash flow for producers ahead of bottling.

The event offers a first glimpse into the quality and potential of the new vintage, with tastings held at the châteaux themselves and organised events in Bordeaux. This year's trip was particularly anticipated due to the promising conditions of the 2023 vintage.

This year, the Cult Wine Investment Committee embarked on an exciting journey to Bordeaux to experience the highly anticipated 2023 vintage.

Led by key members Tom Turner, Tom Gearing, Hermione Egerton-Smith, and Olivier Staub, the committee explored the region's renowned châteaux, evaluating the wines and immersing themselves in the culture and traditions of Bordeaux.

Behind the Scenes in Bordeaux for En Primeur 2023

The Journey Begins: Exploring Saint-Émilion & Pomerol

The committee's adventure began in the picturesque regions of Saint-Émilion and Pomerol. The Trading & Operations Director, Tom Turner, shared his impressions from the first day of tastings. "The 2023 Berliquet was a delight. It started with a slightly green nose, evolving quickly with notes of wood and vanilla. The palate had distinct acidity backed by vibrant and delightful flavours, finishing medium to long," he noted enthusiastically.

The committee found the Angelus 2023 to have a muted nose but appreciated its classic Merlot blend style with hints of blackcurrant, meat, and spices. One of the standout wines of the trip was the Ausone 2023. "There is considerable power and precision here, really bright and juicy, with a superbly long finish," remarked Tom Gearing, the CEO. This sentiment was echoed across the committee, highlighting Ausone as a top performer of the vintage.

Up Next: Margaux & Saint Julien

The journey continued through Margaux and Saint Julien, where the committee encountered some exceptional wines. Tom Turner was particularly impressed with the 2023 Rauzan-Ségla, noting its elegant and pure red fruit core, complemented by floral and mineral notes. "The finish is mineral-driven with lovely chalky tannins," he described, capturing the wine's finesse and complexity.

The committee tasted the illustrious Palmer 2023 in Margaux. Gearing praised its luxurious silkiness and pure red and dark fruits intermixed with spice and cedar notes. "The wine exhibits a beautiful mouthfeel, really coating the mouth and caressing the tongue," he commented, highlighting its exceptional quality and potential for ageing.

The Grandeur of Graves & Pauillac

As the committee moved into the Graves and Pauillac regions, the excitement only grew. The 2023 Haut-Brion Blanc stood out with its atypical nose and vibrant palate. "It's a bomb on the palate, fizzing with pear, apple, and a touch of kiwi, with a finish that goes on and on," Turner noted, emphasising its remarkable complexity and balance.

Pauillac offered some memorable experiences, particularly with the 2023 Lafite Rothschild. "The nose is beautifully bold and expressive, with layered redcurrant, Asian spice, liquorice, and cocoa," Turner detailed. The committee found it quintessential Lafite, showcasing finesse and a long, exquisite finish.

Favourite Producers & Wines

Several producers and wines left a lasting impression on the committee throughout the journey. Turner highlighted the Figeac 2023 for its beautiful tannin softness and balanced salinity, describing it as "a wine that develops intriguingly with each sip."

Meanwhile, Gearing's favourite was the Palmer 2023, which he described as having "a luxurious silkiness and pure red and dark fruits."

Fun Facts & Experiences in Bordeaux

Beyond the tastings, Bordeaux offers a wealth of experiences for wine enthusiasts. Many châteaux provide exclusive tours and tastings, allowing visitors to explore the vineyards and cellars. For instance, Château Palmer offers private vineyard tours and tastings, where guests can enjoy the serene beauty of the estate and sample their exquisite wines in an intimate setting.

Château Haut-Bailly, known for its historical significance and old vines, offers guided tours that explore the estate's rich history and winemaking processes. Visitors can stroll through the vineyards and enjoy a comprehensive tasting of their wines, including the grand vin produced from their 120-year-old vines.

The 2023 Bordeaux En Primeur event gave the Cult Wine Investment Committee a unique opportunity to explore the region's latest vintage and discover exceptional wines. From the elegant and precise Ausone to the luxurious and balanced Palmer, the committee's journey through Bordeaux was marked by extraordinary wines and unforgettable experiences. As the wines develop and mature, they promise to offer remarkable investment potential and delightful drinking experiences for years to come. Whether you are a seasoned wine investor or an enthusiast looking to explore Bordeaux, the 2023 vintage is worth noting.


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