Saturday, 9 August 2014

Pruning Lessons

I have never had a 'green thumb'. In fact, I'm pretty sure I may have accidentally pulled out a plant of my mother's when helping her weed the garden as a child. So it was with excitement, but also some apprehension, that I embarked on my first day of pruning a vineyard.

I was relieved to learn that we would be pruning the Merlot, considered one of the easier vine varieties to prune. Furthermore, it is used for a less expensive wine, would have less of a financial implication if my novice skills had an impact on grape growth. Two other aspects to make the first time easier were: the rows were on a flat and I was using some electric secateurs. 

I was just starting to feel more comfortable about the task at hand when I was warned that, if I cut any wires by accident, I would owe either a carton of beer or a bottle of French Champagne. That's one way to ensure people concentrate, I guess!

Pruning Rookie in Action
Before starting off, I was given a brief rundown and demonstration of what was required. Basically, you need to ensure there is around one hand's width between each 'spur' (which is a nodule protruding from one of the two trellised 'cordons' of the vine). You should choose to keep spurs that are nice and healthy, not woody and brittle, and that look to be pointing fairly vertically upwards. These measures are to ensure the canes (thinner branches) of the vine grow evenly along the arms and train themselves close to the wires. Once you have selected a spur and removed all those in the nearby area, the next step is to cut it back to only two buds. If too many buds are left on, the vine will be too vigorous in shooting and will be overcrowded, resulting in lower quality or underdeveloped grapes.

Grapevine Anatomy
 It was really quite enjoyable spending a day out in the sunshine between the vines. However, I can imagine that the novelty would soon wear off when undertaking this task for many days in a row or on very steep slopes (as is quite common in parts of Europe). I must say that my inexperienced hands were blistered and sore by the end of Day 2, but that was a small price to pay in order to learn the craft of pruning. 

After a while, I was getting into a good rhythm and the spur/bud selection was becoming much more automatic. I had also managed to get through without cutting any wires (or fingers) - whew!

pruned rows of vines (left) but more rows to go (right)

I hope that my employers were satisfied with my efforts and will let me out in the vines on other occasions so that I can hone my skills and pick up my pace. As with any task, when it comes to pruning - practice makes perfect!