In the Vineyard – The Art of Pruning
“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” – Michelangelo
As such, every grapevine has a wine inside, and it is our task as winegrowers to discover it. Read along as we take a look at “The Art of Pruning” at Melville, and how this activity is a cornerstone in the quest to create our own masterpiece.
The growing season begins…as we head into the next growing season, one of the most important ways in which we support Mother Nature and help the vines reach their full potential, is by pruning. A labor-intensive activity (done by hand here at Melville), pruning is a craft that takes years to master. Though it may seem like routine maintenance, pruning is an incredibly significant farming activity whereby the winegrower becomes the artist. Like a writer, sculptor and a painter, the pruner artfully guides the grapevine’s destiny and begins to tell its story.
Writing the story of wine…come January, the vines are well into their period of dormancy (sleep). After a nice bout of rain, the cover crop has grown full-force providing a nourishing and cozy blanket on the vineyard bed. Once the stems have lignified (become woody), we give the vines their annual “haircut,” and the story for the next vintage begins. If the cover crop is the Preface, then Chapter 1 is Pruning.
Like a writer, the pruner begins drafting the plot, setting the intention for how the vines will grow. Putting pen to paper, or shears to vine, the pruner makes deliberate choices of when to prune, which canes to cut, which ones remain, how many buds to keep, and more. These elements affect how the vine will grow, the yields and quality of the fruit, and the story of the wine we are able to craft.
The winegrower as artist…an artist starts with a vision and raw materials. The sculptor has clay, the painter, a palette. Winegrowers have vines, and our vision is quality and purity of wine. When beginning a piece, the artist doesn’t just drop a lump of clay, and say “voila…behold a statue.” It takes time, planning, meticulous tending and an artful eye. Same with pruning.
It also takes years of trial and error. The winegrower artist constantly takes note of how pruning affects the vines. Changes are made deliberately, and intuitively, based on experience and keen observation. Each season the vineyard canvas is painted anew, and the vines are sculpted to provide optimal support unique to the location, varietal, tendency of the vines, characteristics of the clones and desired output.
The vineyard canvas...pruning is needed to counter a vine’s propensity for rampant growth – without it, the structure of the plant wouldweaken and become unable to grow high-quailty fruit. Pruning also allows us to estimate the coming yield. Each cane that remains has a certain number of buds, each bud will grow a shoot, and each shoot will grow about two clusters.
Our crew executes the task of pruning in an organized yet graceful way – they make it look easy, but it’s not. Working with sharp tools, the nimble hands of the pruner cuts, clears, and refines with precision – and they do it quickly. Smooth like a rhapsody. It takes our crew about two full months working six days a week, nine hours a day, to prune our 120 acres.
The dance of the pruner…watch the short video below to see one of our pruners in his artful element. Like a choreographed dance, he moves along intuitively, knowing what to cut and discard, quickly and with grace. Imagine many pruning “dancers” sprinkled among the vineyard rows, rhythmically moving along, sculpting the vines, day after day, block after block…
Thank you for following along in our review of “The Art of Pruning” here at Melville. If you are visiting the Sta. Rita Hills during the months of January and February, stop by our Estate Vineyard and take a look around…and you might see our artists working their canvas.
What lays ahead in this artful story of wine?
Chapter 2 is “Bud Break.” Stay tuned!