Before I ever stepped a working foot into the vineyards, I honestly had no idea that there was so much to do all year round. I guess I just figured that a grapevine was similar to an apple tree. It grows the fruit, you harvest it, done. Pfffft, who needs school?
Wellll, it turns out I was wrong about both fruit-bearing plants. Though an apple orchard may not require as much training and care as a top-site vineyard in Bordeaux, the trees do still benefit from winter pruning, just like a vine does. Pruning takes place during the plants’ dormancy period in the late winter months. Brrrr.
The purpose of pruning is to increase the amount of 1 year old wood on each vine and cut off as much of the old wood as possible. Why? Because fruit is only produced on the shoots of 1 year old wood (canes); anything older will only produce leaves and grapeless shoots. So cutting back as much old wood as possible will encourage new growth in the spring.
Keep in mind though, controlling a certain yield is also key. If a vine produces too many grape clusters it will become exhausted and not be able to properly nourish them all. Baby-mama gotta be able to feed her kids, know what I’m sayin’? The lower the amount of grapes, the higher their aromatic concentration.
The result: higher potential to make great wine.
So, why prune in winter?
Pruning too early can stimulate new growth, which likely won’t harden up in-time for the cold weather. By late winter the vines are in full chill-out mode and not a lot goes on within them. Other than a bit of root growth (if the soil temperature isn’t too cold) the vine is basically just hibernating until spring. Their roots will have taken up enough nutrients post-harvest to store as energy and use to develop shoots when spring arrives, so waiting until the plant is fully dormant will leave them with more reserve root energy. But the vines aren’t the only thing in a vineyard that are dormant. So are most diseases and insects that might otherwise invade or infest cuts made in the wood during pruning.
Also, it’s just a hell of a lot easier to see what you are doing in winter after the leaves have all dropped.
Oh, but the thing about winter though, is that it tends to be cold… After a few months spending 7-8 hours a day outdoors in the freezing cold with just your thoughts and your sheers you may start to wonder how on earth you ever got to this point and why God, WHY!?
…*uneasy laughter*… just kidding 😉
Everyday I’ve spent in the vineyards has rewarded me with a rejuvenating sense of balance – like a form of meditation. Plus, I developed a much deeper appreciation for nature as well as a new respect for sustainable farming and curiosity about where the products I consume really come from. Sure, the cold can be a real bitch, but you just have to bust out your best wool undies and try to keep all your bits covered! Otherwise you won’t last more than a week – and this is coming from a Canadian, eh.
For real though, the cold is the main reason why I don’t get much quality Insta content from my winter adventures in the vines… Exposing your fingers to the cold in order to operate a touch screen is a risky affair! A cold numb finger feels verrrry similar to a piece of the vine between the blades of your sheers… You just have to weigh your odds ;P