Winter seems like such a peaceful time in a vineyard—no threats of spring frost or frantic harvesting of ripe grapes—but in fact, winter is one of the busiest and most important times of the year for one reason: pruning. Pruning is the trimming of last year’s growth on a grapevine to prepare it for producing more fruit in the spring. Sometime between when the vine goes dormant (usually after the first cold snap, when all of the leaves fall off) and when bud break occurs in early spring, vineyard crews will move through the vineyard, cutting back up to 90 percent of last year’s growth.
There are many reasons for pruning, but the main reason is to control the amount of fruit that grows on the vine. Not enough pruning causes too many grape clusters to grow, sapping the vine’s energy and producing thin, watery wine. Overly enthusiastic pruning, on the other hand, so severely limits the amount of fruit that the grapes are too well-covered by the leaves of the vine, creating under-ripe, “green” wines. Sam Turner, owner of Vista Vineyard Management in Napa Valley, says that knowing what and where to cut is “one of highest skills needed for a professional vineyard worker.”
In the northern hemisphere, we’re heading into the height of pruning season, and the feeling of hope and excitement for next year’s crop is thick and heady in vineyards. Get excited for the 2014 vintage!