After the excitement of the harvest, when the vines are dormant and the wines are tucked into their cellars, there is still much work to be done in the vineyard. This quiet season is when the vines are pruned. While lacking the anxious excitement of watching the fruit ripen in summer, or the heady adrenaline rush of harvest in the autumn, pruning the vines in winter is the necessary foundation for the season to come and a key part of making quality wine.
Grapes only grow from shoots on one-year-old canes. To ensure fruit production, healthy new canes must be produced every year. Old canes from previous years’ growth are cut away, and the remaining canes cut back and tied to maintain optimal vine spacing.
While it looks and sounds like a lot of manual labor, pruning grape vines is a combination of science and wisdom:
“Well-pruned vines, through the wisdom and knowledge of a great vineyard manager, balance what they can produce with what a site can provide, creating the best possible fruit from each vineyard,” says JP Pierce, Associate Winemaker at Ponzi Vineyards.
So while pruning and tying down the canes may not be as social media-worthy as ripening fruit clusters, it’s easily the most important part of maintaining vineyard health and producing great wine. That, in a very real way, is a beautiful thing.
The pruning crew at Ponzi Vineyards moves surprisingly quickly down the rows, the steady snip of their shears keeping quick time. The snipped canes are pulled and laid on the ground in alternating fashion between the rows. They’ll be mulched where they lay, to be reincorporated into the soil. This process is relatively quick, and once completed the vineyard crew does another, more-detailed pass through every block. Every cane is tied down and trimmed again so each has about ten growth nodes.
It’s a process that takes two months in cold, unpleasant weather. This year, however, Oregon is experiencing a rather warm winter, with some days even getting above 50 degrees. The vineyard crew is racing the clock to complete pruning before the buds begin to swell and push out, which will begin sometime in March. Luckily, we have a great team working in the vineyard, and we know we have a healthy growing season ahead of us thanks to their efforts today.