Explore / Expertise

North and South: A Tale of Two Hemispheres


Rosie Allen Rosie Allen / 19 May 2020

As nature springs to life in the north, winemakers are doubling down in the south. Rosie Allen speaks to four growers from around the world about the challenges and consolations that each of them experience in the month of May.

May in the northern hemisphere is when nature is at its most enigmatic: hawthorns are garlanded with clouds of frothy blossom, birds are in full song and hedgerows and allotments alike flourish in the emerging heat of early summer. But, these idyllic signposts aside, for the winemaker it's no month for lazing and dreaming. Here's where the hard few months leading to harvest begin, and they must prepare for the challenges of the growing season, whether potential sunburn, excess vegetative growth, pest control or even a late frost.

The other side of the globe, meanwhile, is experiencing an equally important change: the days are slowly shortening, temperatures have begun to gently drop, and winemakers and their vines are preparing for the sun to relinquish its powers of warmth and sunlight for another year. The toil of harvest is over and – if all has gone to plan – healthy grapes are now undergoing their near-magical metamorphosis from fruit to ferment in oak barrel or steel tank. The pace of life in the vineyard is slowing, nearing to a hush: it's time to prepare for winter.

Overlooking the vineyards in the Los Lingues region in Chile
Overlooking the vineyards in the Los Lingues region in Chile

But while nature begins its slumber, activity in the vineyard doesn't completely shut down: preparations for next year's vintage are well underway, fuelling the vines with the nutrients they'll need to emerge next spring; well-fed, rested and ready for the process of producing ripe, healthy fruit for the new vintage. And with the hottest succession of years on record transforming springs and autumns around the world, growers are increasingly preparing for the freak weather events that now punctuate the traditional ebb and flow of the winemaker's year.

We asked four growers across two hemispheres what May looks like for them.

Northern Hemisphere: New shoots and darling buds

In the vineyard: In early spring, sap begins to rise in the vines and buds will begin to emerge. By May flowering will have begun, with flowers gradually growing bigger until they're ready for pollination and fertilisation, culminating (with any luck) in a crop of healthy fruit.

Christina Wess

Wachau, Austria
Christina and Reiner Wess
Christina and Reiner Wess

While burgeoning green shoots lend nature a sense of invincibility, the threat of damage to new buds lingers ominously in the vineyard at this time of year. 'In spring it can actually be a very sensitive time, because it's when flowering begins,' says Christina Wess, whose joint venture with father Rainer Wess has been producing some of Austria's most exciting wines (no mean feat in a country whose wines are so ripe for discovery). 'While it's a very special time because the vine is 'opening' up so that new grapes can eventually emerge on the other side, it also means that diseases could enter the bud very easily during the flowering and could cause a lot of harm, especially the mildew fungus which is most likely to infect the vine during flowering.' Monitoring vines to make sure there's a good amount of air flowing through is crucial to preventing the onset of these diseases, which can easily ruin or taint a whole crop.

'The neuburger grape, for example,' says Christina 'is a very old and temperamental grape variety. The clusters are very dense and as we don't want any botrytis influence on our wines, it presents a big challenge in keeping the air flowing and rot at bay. This year we'll be managing the berry clusters by using our spraying machine filled just with air (not with any chemicals), spraying during flowering, so the chance of botrytis is minimised naturally.'

Try: Rainer Wess Grüner Veltliner, Kremstal 2019

An Austrian star from a father-and-daughter operation in Krems, this ripe, focused grüner veltliner is a must-try, with flavours of stone fruit and spice, and the grape's signature pepper-pot twist on the finish. 13.5%

£9.95 bottle | £59.50 six

Apostolos Thymiopoulos

Naoussa, Greece Apostolos Thymiopoulos
Apostolos Thymiopoulos

'Nature respects you if you respect nature' is the philosophy of Greek winemaker Apostolos Thymiopuolos, a proponent of biodynamic methods who maintains that a deep respect of the soil is the key to creating wines with real character. It's this belief that lies at the heart of his springtime preparations.

By the time May rolls around, Apostolos has already done much of the hard work that will get the vines into good shape for bud-break and flowering to come, undertaking yield-taming pruning, which will encourage smaller yields of more concentrated berries – 'crucial,' says Apostolos 'for a very productive variety such as xinomavro and best avoided on cold days because the wood is harder when temperatures are low and the risk of damaging during pruning is high'. This process is followed by the application of nutrientrich composts ensuring the vines are thriving in time for the growing season.

'Organic principles combined with a use of biodynamic practices gives us a real advantage. By completely avoiding pesticides and chemical fertilizers, we allow the growth of micro-flora, making the soil healthy and well aerated. This means that the roots tend to go deep into the soil to find water and other necessary elements; deep roots make the vine durable and tolerant to other hazards later in the year.'

Try: Xinomavro Jeunes Vignes, Thymiopoulos 2018

Resembling a cross between a pinot noir and a nebbiolo, this pure and elegant Greek red comes from the master of the xinomavro grape, Apostolos Thymiopoulos. Friendly yet complex with a wonderful perfume of red fruits and a hint of mint. Drink now to 2023. 13%

£10.95 bottle | £65.50 six

Southern Hemisphere: A vintage of heat and smoke

In the vineyard: It's a bitter irony that as winemakers return to a way of agriculture that's more attuned to the ebb and flow of the seasons that Mother Nature herself is shifting dramatically out of kilter from traditional farming patterns. It's in the southern hemisphere that the effects of our warming planet are being most profoundly felt, as the devastating recent bushfires in Australia have proven.

Mac Forbes

Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia
Mac Forbes
Mac Forbes

'Obviously Australia was devastated by the fires over Christmas,' says Mac Forbes, the man behind our Blind Spot range and his own Mac Forbes label wines. 'However, in the Yarra Valley we had an extraordinary harvest with cooler temperatures, regular rain and perfect balance in the vines. We did also have a bit of smoke hang around the valley, so we just need to keep assessing the wines for any signs of smoke taint. Fingers crossed our babies are going to be ok. We certainly tried numerous approaches to minimise any pick up of such compounds.'

In autumn and winter, we're already working really hard to build greater soil health: we're busy applying undervine compost as well as reseeding any mid rows with perennial grasses or some clover undervine that will naturally die off in spring. We'll also conduct soil analysis and begin pruning.

Mac Forbes with his daughter
Mac Forbes with his daughter

Towards the end of the process, as the cellar gently warms in early spring, we really start to see the wines come to life. At this stage we begin preparation of bottling of rieslings and give the pinot and chardonnay wines longer to wake. Sometimes doing nothing is the most powerful thing. Something we humans find very hard to do. It's a bit like cooking with great produce. Don't mess around with it too much!'

Try: Blind Spot King Valley Garganega 2019

Australia's King Valley is a home from home for many Italian white wine grapes. Garganega, the Soave grape, thrives in this part of Victoria, offering bags of personality, spice and enticing stone-fruit flavours. 13.5%

£9.50 bottle | £114 dozen

Cristóbal Undurraga

Colchagua Valley, Chile
Cristóbal Undurraga
Cristóbal Undurraga

Just as humans turn to nutrient-dense foods to see us through the biting winds and lashing rains of autumn and winter, so too does the soil: 'The vines have worked all spring and summer season to produce these unique grapes, so it needs to be fed,' says Cristóbal Undurraga, who spent many years at his family winery, Undurraga, before setting up his new venture, Viña Koyle, in Chile's Colchagua valley.

'In this way, we return a hand back to the soil that is the vine's source of food. The biodynamic compost we prepare in our vineyard is the balanced nutrients we give to increase the soil biological life, to make them strong and healthy to go to sleep well fed during the recess cycle.' Cristóbal's vineyards have seen unprecedented unsettled weather conditions, meaning the grapes need thorough assessment pre-vinification to make sure the very best wine can be made from them.

Cristobal Unduragga in the vineyard
Cristobal Unduragga in the vineyard

'The decision and preparations that we will undertake in the winemaking process will depend on what each grape variety turns out like after the harvest season,' says Cristóbal. For example, 2019 has been the most extreme year of a ten year cycle of dryness. This has resulted in very fatigued vines with low yields, terribly affected by the past 2019 winter, the driest winter of Koyle's 14 years of history, where we had 50% less water than the driest year before, and with 20% of the rain that we expected. Considering this, the yields will be dramatically low and the concentration very intense, making this season a very special one, but one where we have to fine tune both viticulture and vinification.

Making sure the winery itself is fit for purpose is probably the least glamorous aspect of autumn preparations, but vitally important. 'For the vinification process all of our stainless-steel tanks, barrels, foudres and concrete eggs must be scrupulously clean. Most essential of all is to make sure we've got a robust winemaking team. During the year we are three winemakers in charge of the winery, but during the harvest time and vinification process we reinforce our team with six more winemakers who will help in each process of the vinification, to make sure the wine is perfect.'

Try: Undurraga Finca Las Lomas Leyda Sauvignon Gris 2019

Chilean sauvignon with a twist! Sauvignon gris is the pink-skinned variation of sauvignon blanc, sharing its familiar zesty crispness but overlaying it with a light, musky, peach scent and a slightly rounder palate and flavour. Intriguing and delicious. 13.5%

£7.95 bottle | £95 dozen

Want more inspiration?

Sign up for a carefully-curated selection of recipes, guides, in-depth expertise and much more.

Our website uses cookies with the aim of providing you with a better service. By using this website you consent to The Wine Society using cookies in accordance with our policy.


4.4. Cookie Policy

By using The Wine Society website, you agree to cookies being used in accordance with the policy outlined below. If you do not agree to this, you must alter your browser settings to turn off cookies or block those types which are unacceptable to you or cease using the website.

The Wine Society uses cookies to enable easy navigation and shopping on the website. We take the privacy of all who use our website very seriously and ensure that our use of cookies complies with current EU legislation. The following guide outlines what cookies are, the types of cookies used on The Society's website and how they work.

You may alter your browser settings to turn off cookies or block those types which are unacceptable to you, but this will cause difficulties when accessing and using some areas of the site. Instructions on how to do this can also be found below.

4.4.1. What are 'Cookies'?

  • Most major websites use cookies.
  • A cookie is a very small data file placed on your hard drive by a web page server. It is essentially your access card, and cannot be executed as code or deliver viruses. It is uniquely yours and can only be read by the server that gave it to you.
  • Cookies cannot be used by themselves to identify you.
  • The purpose of a basic cookie is to tell the server that you returned to that web page or have items in your basket. Without cookies, websites and their servers have no memory. A cookie, like a key, enables swift passage from one place to the next.
  • Without a cookie every time you open a new web page the server where that page is stored will treat you like a completely new visitor.
  • More recently, cookies have also been used to collect information about the user which allows a profile of their preferences and interests to be created so that they can be served with interest-based rather than generic information about available goods and services.

4.4.2. How do Cookies help The Wine Society?

Cookies allow our website to function effectively. Cookies also help us to arrange content to match your preferred interests more quickly. We can learn what information is important to our visitors, and what isn't.

4.4.3. How does The Wine Society use cookies?

The Wine Society does not accept advertising from third parties and therefore, as a rule, does not serve third-party cookies. Exceptions to this include performance/analytical cookies (see below), used anonymously to improve the way our website works, the provision of personalised recommendations, and occasions when we may team up with suppliers to offer special discounts on goods or services.

The Society uses technology to track the patterns of behaviour of visitors to our site.

4.4.4. What type of cookies does The Wine Society use?

We use the following three types of cookies: Strictly Necessary Cookies
These cookies are required for the operation of our website, enabling you to move around the website and use its features, such as accessing secure areas of the website. Without these cookies, services like shopping baskets or e-billing cannot be provided. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Authentication Cookie and Anonymous Cookie
    These cookies remember that you are logged in to your account – without them, the website would repeatedly request your login details with each new page you visit during your time on our website. They are removed once your session has ended.
  • Session Cookie
    These cookies are used to remember who you are as you use our site: without them, the website would be unable to tell the difference between you and another Wine Society member and facilities such as your basket and the checkout process would therefore not be able to function. They too are removed once your session has ended. Functionality & Targeting/Tracking Cookies
These cookies are used to recognise you when you return to our website and to provide enhanced features. This allows us to personalise our content for you. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Unique User Cookie
    This cookie is used to:
    • store your share number in order to identify that you have visited the website before. Without this cookie, we would be unable to tell whether you are a member or not.
    • record your visit to the website, the pages you have visited and the links you have followed. We use this information to make our website, the content displayed on it and direct marketing communications we may send to you or contact you about more relevant to your interests.
    • This cookie expires after 13 months.
  • Peerius Cookies
    These third-party cookies are used to provide you with personalised recommendations based on your purchase and browsing history. They expire within 4 hours of your visit. Performance/analytical cookies
These cookies collect information about how visitors use a website, for instance which pages visitors go to most often, and if they get error messages from web pages. These cookies don't collect information which identifies a visitor. All information these cookies collect is aggregated and therefore anonymous. It is only used to improve how a website works. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Google Analytics Cookies
    These are third-party cookies to enable Google Analytics to monitor website traffic. All information is recorded anonymously. Using Google Analytics allows The Society to better understand how members use our site and monitor website traffic. Authentication Cookie
In order for us to ensure that your data remains secure it is necessary for us to verify that your session is authentic (i.e. it has not been compromised by a malicious user). We do this by storing an otherwise meaningless unique ID in a cookie for the duration of your visit. No personal information can be gained from this cookie.

4.4.5. How do you turn cookies off?

All modern browsers allow you to modify your cookie settings so that all cookies, or those types which are not acceptable to you, are blocked. However, please note that this may affect the successful functioning of the site, particularly if you block all cookies, including essential cookies. For example, In Internet Explorer, go to the Tools Menu, then go to Internet Options, then go to Privacy. Here you can change the rules your browser uses to accept cookies. You can find out more in the public sources mentioned below.

4.4.6. Learn more about cookies

4.4.7. Changes to our cookie policy

Any changes we may make to our cookie policy in the future will be posted on the website and, where appropriate, notified to you by email. Please check back frequently to see any updates and changes to our cookie policy.