A wine grower’s efforts during dormancy will have a direct bearing on the quality of fruit produced at harvest and ultimately the quality of wine. Vines left unpruned grow wild, putting on many shoots that over time progressively produce less fruit of poorer quality.
Grapevines are pruned for two reasons. First to control yield by limiting the number of grape-producing buds, so when vines awaken in spring and fruit formation begins, pruned vines can direct all their energy to a few quality clusters rather than multiple weak or smaller clusters.
The second but equally important reason for pruning is to control vine shape. This is especially important for vineyards that rely on mechanization for harvesting and increasingly for pruning.
Vine pruning is an ancient craft. Until the 19th century, pruning implements were much like those described in the Bible. They were very sharp knives or hooks.
In the mid-19th century, secateurs came into use. The secateur is akin to a pair of modern day pruning shears that cut with scissor action.
Home gardeners know how brutal secateur use can be to hands and thumbs. Think of working full days manually pruning hundreds of acres of vines. Not just any farm laborer can do this work. Pruners must have knowledge of plant behavior. They must know how to cut canes in such a way that adequate buds will be left for next year’s crop. Their cuts must be precise and accurate to minimize injury to themselves and the vine. Because their work is done in the dormant season, it is often done in rain and freezing temperatures.
Some wineries have their own pruning crews, but more often this chore is handled by vineyard management companies or mechanized pruning equipment.
Mechanized pruning equipment involves a steep up-front expenditure, but the initial outlay can be quickly recouped because mechanized pruners can prune vines 24 hours a day in any kind of weather with no risk of injury to workers.
Whether vines are pruned by hand or machine has little bearing on the taste of the end product. Pruning is a significant part of wine growing whether the end product is $10 or $50 a bottle.
Listed below are a couple of interesting wines tasted this past week from producers with whom I had the pleasure of visiting in Sonoma a couple of years back. Try one of these to awaken the palate.
Visionary Carneros Chardonnay 2007. $17.75 at Tyson Fine Wine and Things in Golden Springs. From a prestigious producer who has bottled this ghost wine from excess premium wine exclusively for Pinnacle Imports Inc. of Birmingham, under Pinnacle’s Visionary label. Think of a ghost wine like a ghostwriter, in that someone else did the work while another gets the credit. Not calling names here, but the cork says Schug, a well-known Carneros Sonoma winery. Reminiscent of French Chablis. Crisp on the palate with citrus and green apple flavors. Minimal time spent in oak.
2008 Novy Four Mile Creek Table Wine. $9.75 at Tyson’s. From the Lee family, Texas transplants to Sonoma, better known for their Siduri pinots and syrahs. Novy is their second label. Delightful red blend of grenache, syrah, zinfandel and pinot noir. Restrained and smooth. Aptly named table wine because this versatile red will pair with about anything on the table.