Pruning is the single most important variable in both vineyard management and winemaking. For all the fancy, expensive equipment available in wine and viticulture today, the humble pruning shears of yore still reign supreme. A skilled pruner will set themselves up for a good harvest, and save themselves time and effort later in the year. The more perfect its canopy, the less maintenance a vineyard needs.
It’s a simple act–clip go the shears, off pops the cane, and voilà, you have pruned. But what to cut, and where, and when? Those are the questions each farmer must know from years of experience in the field.
Each region has its own traditional pruning style with unique benefits. Most vines you see in commercial vineyards are trained on wires for ease of management and pruned rather vertically flat in classic guyot or cordon styles. Other training methods are more dramatic: the low bush vines of the Mediterranean shade their fruit from the hot summer sun, while overhead pergola vines of the wet Atlantic keep fruit high and dry, reducing fungal pressure. In dry climates, judicious farmers prune earlier so shoots have enough water to grow properly while it’s abundant; in colder places susceptible to frost, pruning is delayed to spare young shoots the icy nights of early spring.
Each farmer achieves balance according to the peculiarities of each of their vineyards and the nuances of each vine within it. Precise cuts now mean evenly spaced canopy and fruit, bringing good air circulation, reduced disease and pest pressure, and healthy photosynthesis; vines cut too lightly produce flaccid fruit, while vines cut too much grow ungenerous grapes. Vines shape the wine, and pruning shapes the vines.