In football, goal scorers gets the lion’s share of the attention and cheers of the fans. Hard working midfielders, on the other hand, build the more obscure but essential play that will lead strikers to glory.
Similarly, in vineyards, the harvest is the period of a vine cycle that gets the limelight from pundits, media and draws consumer attention. Winter pruning, on the other hand, is the lesser known but crucial time in which decisions are made on what’s going to happen with the fruit for the new vintage.
There are many ways to prune vines. The suitable ones are chosen according to the type of grape, where the vines grow and which shape will make future operations easier. But the fundamental point is that vines produce fruit on one year old wood, meaning that the canes older than that won’t be fruitful. Left to itself, a grapevine would grow to a dense mass of mostly older wood. So up to 90 % of previous year’s shoot growth is removed. A lengthy operation that takes place when the vines are dormant.
The main goal of winter pruning is regulating yields. You mainly do this by controlling the number of buds that will produce bunches of grapes. And then attempting to balance this fruit production with the future vegetative growth (the so called canopy). As easy as it sounds, we should always taken into account the fascinating and sometimes frustrating fact that the grapevine is very responsive to changes in weather. Even more so in cooler regions, where weather conditions tend to be more changeable (spring frost, levels of summer rains etc).
Next time you look at a vineyard in January or February think about the fact that what’s going to thrill your palate in the future starts from those dark and apparently indolent winter days.