Pruning 101

I spent my first 4 hours pruning a vineyard today at a friend’s vineyard in the Chehalem Mountains AVA near Newberg, Oregon. Her vineyard sits atop a knoll, with the Chehalem Mountains to the north, and the Red Hills of Dundee to the south. The February weather was moist but no rain with pockets of mist hanging around the valley, and beams of sun breaking through. I was pruning Pinot Noir, which I was told require personal attention and can only be pruned by hand. Each vine has roots, a trunk, a head out of which all the canes grow and where most of the pruning occurs. Pruning requires selecting a “fruiting cane” and a “renewal spur” for each side of the head. The vineyard I was at today was laid out with all the vine rows running north to south, to allow most sunshine access to the vines. This vineyard has around 5000 vines. Each vine can produce 10-20 clusters of grapes. Prior to pruning, the head has last year’s “fruiting canes,” one running north and another running south along the lower trellis wire. When pruning a head, I was told to look for the best fruiting canes for this year on each side of the head, and then for the best renewal spur canes for next year crop. So pruning in February 2015 is to prepare for harvest in September 2015 and again in September 2016. First stage of pruning is to cut away all but this year’s fruiting cane and next year’s renewal spur. Next comes the brush pulling to remove all the old wood/canes from the trellises. At the base of every cane are two buds which send out new shoots. You cut the renewal spur just below the third set of buds. I saw the results of many years of previous pruning today. This vineyard was planted 26 years ago in 1989. My vintner friend  showed me how to prune by talking, then showed me how by doing. Then she watched me on several vines, as I asked questions and she gave her insights and advice. Each vine presents itself uniquely, so it is like caring for individuals, seeking to read each shape, and learn what canes will become most fruitful for the next 18 months of growing. I carried loppers and hand pruners, using both on most vines. The loppers are used for thick cuts, usually pruning off this past year’s “fruiting cane”, and sometimes chunks of the head which needed to be cleaned up to prevent mold, rot and diseases. My friend does no irrigation, doing dry, organic farming. She uses no pesticides, and is very vigilant about caring for her 5000 vine-children. She taught me to try to prune every vine below the trellis wire, to keep the head from creeping up above the wire. The “fruiting cane” stands straight up right now, but will be trained by bending to lay along the lower trellis wire, and will be the source for the majority of clusters of fruit this year. Today, I was shown me how to read vines next to each other so as to “fill the trellis” with grapes. Thus, when a stunted vine doesn’t have a long fruiting cane, you adjust by leaving the fruiting cane from the neighboring vine to cover that area of the trellis wire. Today, I had an excellent teacher, mentor, someone who knows her vines very well. What a joy to learn this ancient practice of pruning the vine to produce greater fruitfulness this coming harvest season in September.