Thursday, January 26, 2012


It's pruning time, my favorite time in the vineyards. They were already pruning in Burgundy last month, which was giving me the itch, but I like to wait for the winter solstice to pass before getting started. It might be a superstition, but I don't believe in pruning until the days are starting to lengthen--the vines have finished pulling all the nourishment from the canes to the roots, and, though slumbering, are starting to shift towards growing again.

Steve teaching sommeliers about pruning
Sunny days are the other prerequisite for pruning--there are many fungal spores that like to infect the pruning wounds in the rain, so we prune when it's clear out, and paint the fresh cuts with an organic paste made of flour, milk, and compost. This encourages beneficial organisms to grow on the fresh surfaces, creating an inhospitable environment for the wood-rotting fungi.

The frustrating thing is that it is impossible for me to prune the vineyards myself--there are just too many vines. All vineyard owners are forced to hire help to get all of the vines pruned--Columella wrote a treatise on agriculture in 50 AD Rome, and described in detail how many hired hands are necessary for each parcel of vines. So given this reality, my role as a viticulturist is really as a teacher: our pruning is only as good as I can describe and show to the people helping us.

Between our own vineyards and the many vineyards of my consulting clients I find myself discussing and demonstrating pruning almost every day. It's fun, but the high point is taking a day off on the weekend and pruning myself! Even though I live and breath it, I feel like a weekend warrior when I'm actually doing it--five minutes of showing someone doesn't cramp your hand the way a whole day does. It feels good though.
Steve showing the boys how to prune the persimmon tree

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