Winter Pruning: Hugh's Focus
The crop is in and the wine is made. Most have gone to barrel and are now sleeping for the winter. We’ll keep out of the way until Spring arrives when we’ll ‘rack’ the wines, i.e. pump them out of barrels into a tank, wash the lees from the barrels, adjust the sulphur levels and return them to barrels for a further few months.
For now the focus is on the vineyard. Pruning is the most important activity we undertake, apart from harvesting the crop. What we cut out today sets up the vine for its ability to produce fruit for the next two seasons. So what’s changed about pruning in the 21st century? Well, not that much really. The process has been slightly modernised but the principle is the same. Bring the number of fruiting buds back to a level that the vine can support and remain healthy in the next growing season. This means around 30-to 40 buds. It’s a massively labour intensive task as each vine needs to be handled and assessed individually based on the experience of the pruner.
The first task is to use a mechanical pre-pruner which is attached to a tractor and moves along the rows at walking speed. This cuts out the excessive ‘wood’ which grew last season. It used to be done by hand but pulling out tangled dry shoots is very hard work and takes a long time. Once this is done the hand pruners start the job of pruning. No longer do they use hand secateurs, but battery electric, or compressed air secateurs are now almost universally used. Muscle fatigue or tendonitis are common complaints from the ‘old days’. The modern ‘snips’ are very powerful and can slice through wood that is greater than 25mm thick. The pruner of yesterday would have carried a set of loppers and probably a pruning saw for this heavy wood. There are risks too. The modern secateurs have taken off many an unwary pruners’ finger so awareness while on the job is paramount. Anyone for a job??