Pruning Part Deux

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After a lull of about a month and a half, we’re gettin’ busy in the vineyards again.  This week we are starting our second and final pass at pruning.  There is a science to both where we prune and how we prune, but as you know my stance on science-the simpler, the better- we’ll leave out any bifurcation, C4H6O6, vitis vinifera, Assmanhaussen (yes, that’s a real word), and giraffa camelopardalis (ok, that last one’s a giraffe- I was a zoology major).

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photo courtesy National Geographic

There might be a few vocabulary words involved, but I promise to tell you what they mean.

There is definitely a method to determining where to start pruning first.  Naggiar vineyards is a beautiful property with so many positives, however, susceptibility to frost is not one of them.  Our schedule for pruning relies on avoiding as much frost potential as possible.  So, for pruning, we want to start with the areas that will be least affected by frost.  The area around the pond and winery, where our Muscat, Roussane, Marsanne, and Cabernet Franc is grown,  is protected with a sprinkler system (our anti-frost technology), so that is where we begin.  From there, we move up the hill, starting with later-to-bud break varietals and finish with the earlier-to-bud break varietals.  This seemed counterintuitive to me, but taking the frost in consideration- the earlier you prune, the earlier bud break will occur- so early bud break varietals would be extra early.  We want to delay bud break as much as possible to avoid as much frost as possible.  In fact, other vineyards- especially those in Napa- are able to complete pruning much earlier, as most of them have anti-frost measures ( wide-spread sprinkler systems, wind machines) in place.  But hey, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!

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How we do the pruning is an even more crucial component- how we perform our final pruning will dictate how strong of a start we get and how much fruit we will produce, not only this year, but also next year’s fruit load as well.  We adjust our pruning on a vine-by- vine basis- looking at how we performed overall last year and how wet (or dry in this case) the winter was.  It’s at this time we will re-position the cordons (the arms of the vine),  adjust spur positions (the spikes coming off the cordons) and do a little Eutypa (a type of fungus) control so you end up with something looking like this:

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And yes, unfortunately, vines used in this process are harmed- we actually make them weep!  Before you go calling VPS (vine protective services), it’s actually good to do pruning when the “sap is running” (hence the weeping).  The sap flowing is a sign the vine is waking up.  Let’s use a little simple human physiology (my zoology degree speaking here) to explain this.  Say you cut your finger with a dirty cheese knife- it happens.  Bacteria are on every surface and now they are in your finger.  Your blood, along with providing clotting to close the wound, initially helps flush the area, so the bacteria have less of a chance for going deep into the wound to create bacterial havoc.  The same is true with vines- if you prune when the sap is not running, any bacteria, fungus (such as Eutypa) etc. present on your shears or in the vicinity of the vine will get into the cut and with no sap to help flush it, has a greater chance of leading to an “infection”.  Just like blood, the sap will drip a bit, but then will start to build up to form a sort of scab- so none of the nasty stuff can get back in.

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 Pretty cool human/vine analogy if I do say so myself.

We will be going through this process for the next 3-4 weeks with a group of 10-14 workers with a high tolerance for monotony, but with an acute attention to detail.  Every year is unique and what we do this year will be a little different from other years.  And everything we do this year will affect next year’s performance also, so this is a very crucial time in many ways.  Before you know it, we will be into bud break (and hoping for no frost), on our way to the 2014 vintage.

FYI- if you are curious, an Assmanshaussen is not a dirty word, but a type of yeast strain.  Gotta love the German language!

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About dwdirwin

Wife of Naggiar Vineyards winemaker Derek Irwin, mother to 4 active kids and one dog and newbie blogger!
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4 Responses to Pruning Part Deux

  1. Very informative as usual! I was at Clos Pepe and Wes explained their pruning where they leave one cordon from the previous season, from which all the new growth occurs. I think this is one method of pruning (but do not recall its term). How many different methods do you guys use? Does it depend more on variety or location? Does it vary from year to year (might you prune one variety in a certain way one year and then decide to change it)?

    Sorry for all of the questions, but your posts are so thought (and question) provoking!

  2. dwdirwin says:

    Thought provoking, I like that- sounds much better than too cursory! As for the methods of pruning, I am planning on doing next week’s post on that- it’s a large enough subject to do on its own. I like to keep posts on the shorter side and that would have been way too much info for me to lay out. As for the other questions- the method depends on both varietal and location as well as the price-point you are looking to sell the wine at. If you are looking for more quantity, you will leave more buds to produce more fruit, which generally relates to a larger volume of wine at lower costs. If you are looking to really concentrate on the quality of the fruit, you will leave only 2 or fewer buds- generally meaning smaller volume of wine at higher cost. It definitely varies from year to year, depending on what last growing season was like, how much rain there has been (we are more aggressive with our pruning this year with the lack of rain- more buds- more spread out the limited resources are) I hope to address the pruning methods more in depth next week. And the method you mentioned from Clos Pepe is called cane pruning 🙂

  3. Stephen Ballard says:

    A somewhat unrelated question — how are you coping with the drought? I’m a California native (I’ve been in DC and now Virginia since 1988), and watching the disaster unfold is distressing — I’d love to hear your thoughts on it (a future post, perhaps?)

    • dwdirwin says:

      That’s a great question- it is definitely on every wine lover’s mind (as well as any Californian looking at water rationing)! I actually did a post on the situation back in January- the 22nd, about 6 posts back. Thankfully, we’ve had some rain- one good storm a couple of weeks back and another good storm presently, so hopefully, things aren’t as dire as they seemed in January. That being said, it would have to rain MUCH more to make up for 2 dry seasons. But, I like the idea of revisiting the weather question again once we see what the rest of the “rainy” season brings.

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