The Most Important Job of the Year
We’re back from the holidays and New Year’s break. The weather is terrific with cold mornings and sunny days. This is the time of year when vineyard managers are naturally drawn to the winter activity of pruning. Time to get into the vineyards before it’s too muddy, when the vines are dormant.
This vineyard worker is evaluating this old Zinfandel vine to come up with the best strategy. There are several considerations when pruning:
- Vine health
- Harvest considerations
- Budbreak relative to spring frost
One thing that’s different about grapes compared to most other fruits is that the grape clusters were formed late last spring. When pruning, we must keep in mind not just this year but what was going on last year and what we want to see the following year.
Vine Health: In order to determine the health of a vine, we look at the dormant vine. If it shows healthy growth and sturdy canes, the vine is in good shape. If it is weak, it needs to be pruned more aggressively to remove the damaged wood.
Vineyard managers prune to achieve the desired ratio of fruit yield for the expected leaf area. Adjustments to the total yield are best made at pruning time. If left alone, grapevines would grow all over the place. They need to be trained to maintain their plant size, shape and productivity. This training could take years to do but you will find that it is well worth it.
Harvest Considerations: As in a glass of great wine, when it comes to the vines, balance is key. Pruning influences the emergence of new growth, budbreak, the flowering and the coloring or veraison, which is connected to the timing of ripeness and harvest. Know that there are many other things that influence this timeline, including grape variety, clone, rootstock and not least of all, the weather.
However, if 400 acres of Cabernet are pruned in the same geographic area all in one week, one could expect much of it to be ready to pick at the same time. In cases like these, pruning is spread out over the month to help elongate the harvest time ever so slightly. This helps with tank space management at the winery during the fermentation.
Budbreak: As I mentioned, the act of pruning influences the timing of budbreak. In places prone to spring frost, one strategy is to postpone pruning until relatively late in the year. This allows the suppression of budbreak by a few weeks and can sometimes remove the frost threat and make sure there is little or no crop damage.
As you can imagine, caring for your grapevines means getting down and dirty. If done well, you will find that you have a healthy and plentiful crop that will eventually lead to great tasting wine.
With the miracle of technology, look at a picture of a bunch of our Wine Consultants picking grapes at our next National Convention this summer in Texas.
A great and careful pruning will allow Kelly, Tammy, Diane, Suzanne, Shari, Kate, Roni Lee, Jennifer, Jaclyn, Margie, Jan, Amy, Sherry, Sabrina, Kayleen, Kristin and many more to pick beautiful bunches of grapes. (It cannot be seen in this picture but Josh, Russell and Nelson are hiding in the back.)