Time to make way for new growth

The Excelsior philosophy is that good wine is made in the vineyards – the winemaker can only succeed if he has the best quality basic ingredients with which to work. We’re pruning at the moment and it’s essential to get it right for the health of the vines and the quality of the grape crop.

Once vines are matured and occupying the desired space on the five wire trellis (there are other wire systems but the five wire is the most common in the new world), the vine canes need to be pruned every year. We are busy doing this now; during the winter grape vines are dormant and loose their leaves. If there are no complications from other factors, later pruning means later budding which is an advantage if you’re in an area prone to damaging frost.

What’s the point of pruning? If we didn’t prune, wood that stayed behind would become part of the permanent vine from which new canes would sprout, and the vine would grow exponentially. Pruning optimizes the production potential of the grape vine; the aim is to maintain the balance between vegetative growth and fruit, and allow that fruit to ripen properly. A vine left to its own devices would attempt to grow a bigger grape crop than the previous year which would affect the quality…if you could get to it; if we didn’t prune now then by December the vineyards would be a massive tangle of canes and shoots. So pruning not only influences quality but is crucial in a modern vineyard for practicality and efficiency.

It’s also an opportunity to fill in any gaps, where a vine has died, by training up the adjacent vines and extending them along the wire.

Spur pruning is the preferred method at Excelsior. There is a permanent branch set up on the trellis wire where two side arms are trained along the horizontal wires. We find pruning is easier because we have suckered in spring (more on that in a later post). Each year the shoots or canes grow vertically, and after suckering two canes are left; now the one from the ‘old wood’ is cut off entirely, the other is pruned back to form a spur by cutting just above the two buds (or eyes), which will produce new growth. The aim is to limit the number of eyes on each spur to concentrate the growth. It’s much harder work than it looks but a team of 32 people can get through 6 ha per day – that’s an impressive 24,000 vines!

Further Reading:
Pruning Grape Vines in Minnesota

Pruning Grape Vines – A Farmer’s Guide

Wikipedia – Pruning

Fact Sheet – Pruning Vines

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