Spring in Sonoma County is so beautiful but it seems like we barely have time to appreciate it with all the work to be done. Our days are filled with a host of vineyard activities from spraying, performing organic weed control, and monitoring vine health. But one of the most important activites we do all year is green pruning.
Now green pruning occurs after budbreak. The goal of green pruning is to remove excess shoots to put the vine into an equilibrium. Our crew is incredibly talented and only through years of practice have they been able to master the art of green pruning. The first step is to examine the vine as a whole. Each vine is unique and has a different fruit-bearing capacity based on the vineyard, its spot in the vineyard, the environmental forces upon it, and how the vine has been treated in the past. Some vines show weaker growth and need fewer shoots and other vines need more shoots to control excess vigor. On a fully productive vine with 1 meter of spacing between vines, you would expect to leave between 10 and 12 shoots. In fact, in Burgundy, vineyards are prohibited from having more than 10 shoots per meter, as any more would lead to less concentrated and focused fruit. The majority of the shoots will come off the cane that you laid down during initial pruning but two shoots whill come off of the head position to the oposite side. One of these will serve as the cane you lay down next year.(see picture below) So once you’ve decided how many shoots is appropriate for that vine, you can start pulling off green shoots.(green pruning) So, the shoots to leave are the ones that are evenly spaced along the cane with similar heights. Also, you wouldn’t want to leave a double, which is a second shoot coming out of the same bud position.
So, whats the difference between pruning and green pruning? The purpose of this initial pruning is to clear out all of last year’s growth to make room for this year’s shoots and to set the preliminary structure of the vine. We usually do pruning in January and February. Small Vines implements cane pruning which consists of laying down one of last year’s canes on the fruiting wire and leaving between 8-12 buds, depending on plant vigor. Its important to select a cane that is about 6 inches below the fruting wire because the head position of the vine tends to get higher over the years and if it got too high we’d have to severely bend the cane to tie it down, which could restrict vascular flow and production levels. We also choose a cane that is naturally pointing in the direction of the wire so we don’t have to kink it to position it. Above is a picture of a fully pruned vine. It has the correct number of bud positions and the cane is gently guided in the direction of the fruiting wire.
Above is a picture of a green pruned vine. If you count the shoots coming off the cane, you can see 8. Then the leaves you see to the right of the head of the vine make up the two replacment shoots, one of which will be laid down as next year’s fruiting cane. So there we go, 10 shoots for this vine. Perfect for a vine in Burgundy, France and appropriate for this vine as well.
I can’t stress how important green pruning is. Mistakes cause problems for several years. If the vine isn’t perfectly balanced, it’ll hurt this year’s crop quality but also, the vine will struggle to get back into equilibrium next year. Every year we spend a day re-training the crew and green pruning as a team to make sure everyone feels comfortable and is making good decisions for the vineyard. Once everyone is up to speed, it takes roughly 45 seconds per vine to green prune. Our vineyards range from 3350-3630 vines per acre. So on each acre, we’re looking at over 40 hours of man labor. Time-consuming? Yes. Paramount to producing world-class grapes? Definitely!