The Art of Pruning – Part 2

The art of pruning back a vine or a tree is all about finding the right balance for improving fruit quality and quantity.

The first thing to understand is that only buds from last year will produce fruit this year. So imagine a grapevine that has one cane from last year, and this cane has 12 buds. Each of those buds will produce a new cane this year (with two or three clusters of grapes). But the next year (without pruning) the vine may have 144 buds (12 canes with say 12 buds each) and following year (without pruning) might have 1728 buds (144 canes with 12 buds each).

The image is a vine out of control, trying to sustain all that growth with essentially the same root system. What ends up happening is that the canes get spindly and the grapes clusters (if there at all) are smaller and smaller. Thus the wild grapevine near a creek we’ve all seen.

For many, the beauty of vineyards is how the vines all line up perfectly with such spectacular precision and elegance. Screw those people! All this “perfection” takes time and effort on our part, both in the choice/implementation of the trellising system and the continual training of the vine.

With 85 acres of vineyards (planted in different “eras” of vine trellising technology), we essentially use three different methods of pruning; cane pruning, cordon (spur) pruning, and vertical cordon pruning.

UntitledCane Pruning—This is by far the preferred system of pruning in our vineyards (70 of the 85 acres). Although cane pruning is the most difficult, time-consuming and skill-oriented, we find it balances the needs of older vines. The basis of cane pruning is to choose two canes from last year’s growth to tie down on the wire for this year’s crop. Each cane (one running each direction on the wire from the head (trunk)) is trimmed to have 6 or 7 buds on it, and never having a girth smaller than a pencil. That in itself seems very simple.

The skill in cane pruning is the preparation for next year’s canes. In other words, we need to be thinking about where the vine’s replacement canes will be coming from in 12 months from now. The art is leaving a couple spurs in the head of the vine (the center) to grow the canes for next year. If we don’t leave enough spurs in the right area of the head, we run the risk of not having suitable replacement canes next year (and no crop). If we leave too many spurs, the head becomes too dense with growth causing airflow and potentially mold/mildew issues for the vine.

Thus having skilled people doing the pruning is paramount for our success. Ideally, our crew is small (4-5 people) who do all the pruning, giving us consistency throughout the vineyard and success for next year’s harvest.

Cordon Pruning—Cordon pruning or spur pruning is a different concept. The idea behind a vertical cordon is that over the years we keep the same wood growing on the wire instead of choosing a new cane every year. But remember that only last year’s buds produce fruit.

So the first year we would have a cane on the wire. But instead of cutting it off after harvest and choosing a new cane, we would retain that older cane (or cordon now) on the wire and trim all the new canes (from this year’s growth) to just the two closest buds to the cordon.

Since each position on the cordon will produce two new canes (from each two-bud spur), we need to cut out every other spur position to balance out the growth. Ultimately, there will be 6 to 10 new canes growing on each side of the cordon producing fruit.

The benefit of this system is that it’s fast and easy to prune and doesn’t take much training for new personnel. There’s little need to make difficult decisions extrapolating a year into the future (like with cane-pruning), and portions can be done with a tractor if automation is where a winery wants to go.

The challenge for cordon pruning is spreading the grape clusters throughout the fruiting area (in other words, not having the clusters touch each other). Generally, fruit quality is improved when it hangs freely open on all sides.

And for us at Madroña, we tend to find yields on older vines drop over time with cordon pruning. (And we have mostly older vines now.)


Vertical Cordon Pruning—So a vertical cordon is not unlike the horizontal cordon on wire except that is completely vertical (thus the name!). Imagine a vine that grows up a post more like a tree, having a “trunk” with the 2-bud spurs placed along it. The fruiting zone is no longer in a defined narrow area (which tends to give more uniformity), but is instead vertically varied from two to five feet or so.

The benefits of a vertical cordon are not unlike the cordon pruning above. It’s easy and fast to prune, not needing much training or skill to do. And there is the other benefit that the grape clusters are spread out generally hanging unencumbered by other clusters.

The challenge with a vertical cordon is the potential for the grapes to ripen at slightly different rates. It’s amazing how temperatures fluctuate in such a small 3-foot area with the soil warming during the day (from the sun) and cooling doing the night. These differences go counter to the thought of having a uniform ripeness.

However for a variety like Zinfandel that showcases unique characters at different ripenesses, a vertical cordon can be a good system to choose.

Truly, there is no perfect pruning system. In all honesty we use hybrids of all these systems including kicker canes (an extra cane), cane-pruned quadrilateral systems (two fruiting wires with four canes), and layered canes at different fruiting wire heights. Having multiple systems provides some insurance that we’ll get everything pruned before the springtime budding while emphasizing the quality of the fruit.

In the end, though, nothing is ever permanent. The great thing about choosing how you want to prune is that ultimately the vines are very forgiving. If you decide that one style of pruning doesn’t achieve what you need, you can eventually change things around.

So the next time you drive by and see people pruning, give a nod celebrating the planning and skill incorporated in the art of pruning!

Read The Art of Pruning – Part 1

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Art of Pruning—Part 1

pruning-part-1bIf you think back to the origins of agriculture, no doubt the domestication of animals was one of the most important changes our distant relatives could have made. Equally innovative is the concept of preparing soil and the planting of gathered seeds to produce a needed crop.

But if you think about it, the concept of “pruning” is almost counter-intuitive. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word “prune” as “to cut off or cut back parts of for better shape or more fruitful growth.” That’s all good, but there’s a huge leap in thought that produces the concept of pruning.

Continue reading

Posted in Paul's Blog Posts, Vineyard News | 1 Comment

Cellar Experience


Are you interested in a more intimate and education wine experience?  Then we invite you to join our cellar staff (Ryan and Tim) for a intimate wine and cheese tasting in our barrel room.  Ryan and Tim will walk you through 6 wines along with 6 cheese pairings, while talking about the art of winemaking, terrior, and food – all favorite topics of theirs!

cellar-wine-experienceFour sessions are available as follows:

Saturday, March 11 @ 2:00
Sunday, March 12 @ 2:00
Saturday, March 25 @ 2:00
Sunday, March 26 @ 2:00

Each session is limited to 8 people, but we also must have a minimum of 4.

Continue reading

Posted in Education, Events, Food & Wine | Leave a comment

Some thoughts on Port (Part 2)

2016-portopia-3By Tim Wright

As I alluded to in part one of this blog, my philosophy of wine tasting and wine discovery (wine appreciation, to coin a term) was heavily influenced by my being in the right place at the right time (working the crush in 1993), surrounded by the right people to expand my wine horizons (the Madroña family, including the Bushes, winemaker Hugh Chappelle, and my roommate at the time – another Bush by the name of Paul). Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New Ideas for a New Year


Today’s weather January 23, 2017

OK, so yes. I know that January 1st is “just another day” in the year, not really any different than March 22nd or October 24th (except maybe the weather). But still, we all tend to take this beginning of the New Year as being a chance to reflect and start something new.

Although the wine industry is steeped in tradition and we essentially make wine the same way as they did hundreds of years ago, there’s always a chance to make a change here and there. Here at Madroña, some New Year aspects are mundane and behind the scenes. Others are coming down the pike with an opportunity to partake with your senses. Regardless, for us, there’s an excitement in the air that can only come from hints of change. Continue reading

Posted in Paul's Blog Posts | Leave a comment

Some Thoughts on Port…Part 1

sierra-5As you may know, every February Madroña celebrates Port. For twenty eight days (29 some years) we open and sample older vintage Ports from the library, pair Ports in the conventional way with chocolate or cheese, and explore unusual pairings of Port with foods of all kinds. This blog was originally intended to inform you about Port Month, and Portopia (which I’ll get to later), but as I was compiling my notes, I realized that some people may have one simple question that I completely take for granted: Why?

Why all the fuss? Why spend an entire month celebrating a dessert wine – a SWEET wine? What is so special about Port? Continue reading

Posted in Education, Food & Wine | Leave a comment

Grandma M’s Stroganoff Recipe (Merlot)

ryan-merlot-pairingBeef stroganoff is one of my favorite wintertime comfort foods. Normally I would recommend pairing this with our Cabernet Sauvignon, but I recently paired it with our Merlot and it worked beautifully. The tender beef, having been slow cooked in the Merlot, along with the onions and mushrooms, created a nice marriage of flavors that work well with the characteristics of our Merlot.  With it’s density and structure it stands up to the creamy and savory aspects of the stroganoff. With stroganoff being a relatively simplistic dish, it really brought out some of the unique subtleties of our Merlot, allowing it to show well. As for myself,  I specifically enjoyed the deep cherry characters and Merlot (which isn’t typically known for it’s spice) showed a very Continue reading

Posted in Food & Wine, Recipes - Featured | Leave a comment