If 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.
Think back to the days of our ancient ancestors where quantity of fruit may have been more important than quality, especially if the source was a wild vine. Following this idea, the larger the vine, the more fruit it produces. So who would have thought that cutting a vine back or pruning a tree of most of its growth would produce a better and possibly larger crop?
Alas it is not my job to explain the secrets of the universe. Instead, I thank those farmers of the past that have helped refine the art of pruning so that we can produce an exceptional quality of grape.
Pruning is one of the most important decisions we make each year. The question is not whether we should prune or not, but instead how much we should prune.
The pruning season for us starts on January 2nd. We have learned that with our crew (4 to 5 people), we can prune our 85 acres of vineyards and finish just before the vines bud out in spring (assuming an “average” amount of rainy days when we don’t work in the vineyards).
The timing is immanently important. The earlier one prunes, the earlier the plant buds. But, if we prune too early and the vine buds out too early, it is more susceptible (timing wise) to spring frosts. On the other hand, if a vine buds out before it’s been pruned, the stored energy (in the vine from the winter) is expended (or better yet, wasted) over many buds. It essentially saps the vine of needed energy for much of the rest of the season.
So partially, the balance in the timing of pruning may determine just how much crop we get. Logistically, we prune the older vines with the late budding varieties first since we have a frost protection system in place. Then we slowly work through the different varieties depending on their propensity to spring frosts and the type of pruning/trellising system.
If all goes well, we will finish pruning the last vine just as the first vines start budding out. And since the art of pruning is skilled labor, we only let our crew prune the vineyard (rather than hiring many people for a short period). We need consistency in our pruning, and that comes by having the same people prune every year.
Part 2—Cane Pruning, Cordon Pruning and Vertical Cordon Pruning—Yes We Do All Three!