Vines have their own ideas about what they should do, and left to their own resources they would send out shoots to touch the ground and sprout roots to form new plants. This “layering” process would fulfill the vine’s natural tendency to produce as much fruit as possible and perpetuate their species, but leave us with less than optimum fruit from which to make our wines.
Winter pruning provides us with a way to “train” the vine to provide the best fruit for winemaking and assure good plant health. The best fruit is grown from buds that sprout on one-year-old wood, so every winter while the plants are “sleeping”, the vines are cut back to optimize the quality and quantity of the fruit we will grow in the coming year.
Spur or Cane?
There are two basic types of pruning methods for grapevines, spur and cane pruning. We incorporate both methods in our vineyards, depending on soils, aspect (direction the vines face), grade (angle of the vineyard on a hillside) and other factors, to help us meet our objective of growing the highest quality fruit for our wines. There is no right or wrong, just a continual gradient of balance that needs to be revisited and interpreted from time to time.
When you look at one of our spur trained vines at the end of the growing season, shown in the photo above with all of the leaves off, you see a “T” shaped plant with a thick central trunk and two slightly thinner arms or cordons extending horizontally about three feet above the soil. The tan colored vertical canes (now one year old) are the full growth from the 2012 season.
After pruning, this same vine after it has had the one-year-old canes pruned down to “spurs” with two buds that (red arrows) will sprout the shoots that will bear fruit during the 2013 growing season. This configuration is referred to as cordon trained, spur pruned, sometimes called Cordon de Royat.
Tomorrow, I’ll going to discuss how we are improving some of our cabernet sauvignon vines by trying a different pruning technique.
Jim Gerakaris, CSW