If there’s one scent as delightful as that of fine wine itself, it must be the delicate perfume of vines in bloom, a rarity offering respite from congested city life.
Oddly enough, it’s a smell the vine plant doesn’t need to emit for any practical reason. Yet it’s potent enough to make anyone with a sense of smell fall in love with our beautiful walled vineyard parcels and delicious Maltese wines.
In fact, the vine flower is most likely self-pollinating, with no need to solicit the help of insects, and yet it releases an odour which is reputedly aphrodisiac.
The most common vine varieties are almost invariably hermaphroditic. Their flowers are thus equipped with both male and female parts and, all going well, they fertilise themselves. This leads immediately to fruit set and the creation of grape berries.
The small green vine blossoms hidden underneath leaves aren’t spectacularly showy and the flowering process could easily go unnoticed. However, our vignerons know that this is an important natural occurrence that will determine the quantity and quality of the next harvest.
Thanks to the warm local climate, bloom in Malta usually takes place as early as the beginning of May, or about 6 to 10 weeks after budbreak. Early ripening varieties such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc flower first and others like the native Girgentina and Ġellewża varieties towards the end.
Flowering starts when the flower cap opens and falls away. It’s made up by five inconspicuous petals which look like an inverted cup with a distinguishable star sign when still closed. As it splits open and drops it will expose the male stamen, which will produce the pollen that need to get to the female stigma where they germinate and penetrate into the style to fertilise the ovary inside it.
It’s during the short five to 15 day period of capfall that the perfume of each variety is most noticeable, especially just after dawn on warm, windless days.
This article by Georges Meekers appeared first in the Times of Malta, 5 May 2017.