The kindest cut

Imagine one of the harder and more unpleasant physical task you’ve ever done, and now picture yourself doing it outside in the winter chill, whilst standing in mud, and even in the rain.

Welcome to pruning.

Pruning is much more than giving the vines a bit of a winter tidy up and trim. In fact, it is just about the most important task in the vineyard, which is a good thing as we’d otherwise be tempted to put it off until spring, and it would never get done.

Good pruning sets up the grapevine vines to produce high quality fruit with the right level of acid, sugars, and flavours required to make our terrific Clare Valley wines, for both the coming season and beyond. It is all about balance; balancing fruit load, the spacing of bunches, and the size of the leaf canopy the vine produces during the growing season.

Leaves are the powerhouse of a vine, feeding the plant through photosynthesis, and turning sunlight, water and minerals into energy to sustain the plant. If the does not grow an appropriate sized canopy for its fruit load, it will not be able to  produce sufficient energy to support the ripening of its fruit. On the other hand, too much canopy is not good either.  We need to prune for a canopy that will give good airflow (to control diseases such as powdery mildew) and allow the right amount of sunlight exposure for ripening.

Timing of pruning is also important in planning our  winter work schedule. Growers with large holdings must start pruning early, often just as the last autumn leaves have dropped from the vines, so they can complete the task before spring growth appears. Our block is small enough that we can commence pruning later in winter and have the job finished before bud burst. This has a number of benefits. Later pruning can help delay bud burst by up to about two weeks. This ensures the new spring growth will not be damaged by a late visit from Jack Frost. Later pruning also reduces the risk of disease. Cuts are open wounds on vines and provide a site for infection to take hold. Pruning the vine just as sap is starting to move through the canes helps the vine to seal these cuts. Of course if we wait too long to start pruning we won’t finish the task before the commencement of spring growth.  

By the end of summer grapevines are a tangle of long canes, supported by the trellis system. These canes are great at finding unprotected eyes, so we usually have our vineyard manager, Michael Smyth, drive through the vineyard with a machine pruner to trim back the longest canes before we go in and finish the job by hand. However the wetter than average winter has meant our vineyard soil is too muddy to take the weight of heavy tractors. We don’t want to damage our soil structure so this year the vineyard will be entirely pruned by hand.

Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz are pruned differently to adjust for the different crop level requirements and vine vigour. We also modify our pruning technique as we move from north to south to allow for the different soils and terroir through the block.

Pruning is not the only job on my to do list. Many of you will know I was successful in my bid for election to the Senate in the recent Federal election. Fortunately Nimfa with our daughters Tess and Emily will take on the day to day running of Farrell Wines to ensure your quick receipt of orders.

On that note, our Election Special has been extended again, but for a limited time only. Order two half dozen cases of Farrell Wines 2015 Shiraz and pay only $199, including delivery to anywhere in Australia. Click here to order.

Until next time,

Don