It may not be the sexiest part of winemaking, but grape vine pruning plays an essential function in ensuring you have lovely bunches of grapes to harvest later in the year. On a recent visit to Whidbey Island Winery, a short drive and pleasant ferry ride from Seattle, I’ll admit to being a bit shocked at the severity of the vine pruning taking place. Thankfully, my alarm was due to ignorance. (Normally I’m not thankful about being ignorant.)
So to educate myself I turned to Greg Osenbach, Winemaker at Whidbey Island Winery. Greg helped me understand the year-round work it takes to run a vineyard; it’s a combination of sweat, technical knowledge, and agricultural prowess. I have a lot of respect for the hard work that goes into each glass of wine produced from Whidbey Island Winery’s vineyards. If you are looking to dive in deeper to the world of grape vine pruning, here’s what Greg had to say about the process specific to the Puget Sound AVA (emphasis mine):
“Grapes [grape vines] only produce fruit on shoots that arise from last year’s wood, so you have to leave some new wood. For these shoots to be fruitful they need to have had copious sunlight the previous year on the bud from which they grow, so you have to keep the canopy thin.”
“There are 2 basic pruning styles:
1. Spur pruning: The most common and easiest, in which the vine has permanent arms (at whatever height). Shoots arising from the arms (cordons) are pruned back to 2 buds each year. The spacing of spurs determines how many buds are left.
2. Cane pruning: Only the trunk and short arms are permanent and a single long cane is left on each side. The length of the cane determines how many buds are left.
Both are capable of providing any given number of buds per foot of row. The desirable number of buds is a factor of climate, vigor, water, etc.: i.e. it is site specific.”
“We use the much more labor intensive cane pruning because, in our cool climate, the first 2 buds on a cane are not as fruitful as the next 5 or 6. Pruning to only buds 1 and 2 would result in a much smaller–too small–crop. I have tried limited spur pruning and proven this to myself. (Bummer.) There is also some evidence in the literature that cane pruning produces higher quality fruit, so it is used some places where it isn’t absolutely necessary for fruitfulness. Opus One and a lot of Europe come to mind.”
“I think the reason our vineyards look so stark after pruning is the lack of hefty cordons and the shortness of our trunks – again, a cool climate adaptation.”
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Thank you Greg, for the great Pruning 101 lesson. And the best wines to match with this post are, naturally, a couple of white wines made from grapes grown at Whidbey Island Winery. The Madeleine Angevine is a dry and crisp white, while the Island White (a blend of Madeleine Angevine and Madeleine Sylvaner) has a touch of sweetness. Both would be great with some local mussels from Whidbey Island.
A season pruning in early 2011 at WIllaKenzie Estate, in Yamhill, OR, taught me to respect the vineyard. Serious props to vineyard crews, that is tough work. Great post!
Thank you for reading, commenting, and the kudos. As you know, it takes a lot of year-round grunt work to get a beautiful bunch of grapes ready for their closeup.