By guest blogger John
Every year around March 10th, our merlot vines at Birdland Vineyard are pruned. Pruning involves cutting off most of the canes that were formed last year which had produced the leaves and the bunches of grapes. The task seems quite simple to start with but care is needed to leave at the base of the cane 2 viable buds that will form the new canes for this year. Also there are often several canes sprouting from the heavy branch of the vine and so the person pruning needs to know which to remove completely and those to leave.
Ruth and I took a pruning class several years ago and it was quite good fun although the weather was rather cold and damp that day. We seemed to be able to do a decent job but found after about 1/2 hour that our hands were getting sore as cutting the canes, even with good sharp pruning shears is quite hard work.
Our vineyard manager sends over about 6 men to prune our vineyard and it will take them several days as we have over 5000 vines and each vine will have 5 or 6 bunches of canes. Thankfully they manage to work for more than half an hour before complaining of sore hands!
The pruning process is a little different this year. If you look carefully at photos you can see that even on a pruned vine there is a long cane being left. This is from a sucker we left to develop 2 years ago from the base of the vine. This year we shall train these canes to form the basis of what will become essentially new vines. We will monitor the old and new parts and look carefully at the bunches of grapes they each produce. If the bunches are better on the new cane, we will cut off the heavy woody parts and work with just the new cane. Apart from producing bigger bunches of grapes, we are also hoping that the new canes will be prone to less disease, as old vines tend to get fungal problems.
We may also train some of them differently. Currently the vines are trained in a manner called cordon pruned with the fruit bearing branch parallel to the ground but we may switch to cane pruning as I'm told that often works better for merlot grapes.
Our newly grafted 'Godello' vines will be pruned differently this year, but that is another story for another day.....