Mar 10, 2014

Pruning in Carmel Valley, California

Its that time of year in California when the pruning of the vines is undertaken. This annual vineyard event arguably sets the stage for the coming vintage.
The pruning of the vine determines how many canes grow and that has an effect on the amount of vine growth which in turn affects the number of bunches of grapes each vine produces. Prune a grape vine correctly and you will increase the quality of the crop. There are numerous methods used to prune and train grape vines, but the philosophy is the same. Pruning prevents the vine from growing too much foliage, which in turn, amounts to not enough fruit or if done incorrectly can lead to too much fruit of less flavor.

A well-pruned vineyard allows for the right amount of sunlight and air circulation and these factors create an environment that is less likely to allow diseases or pests to take hold. 

We thought a close up look at a local vineyard would be nice so after a fortuitous meeting with Jack Galante, an appointment was made and we were set. The vineyard to be visited is the Almond Flat Vineyard of Galante Vineyards deep in Carmel Valley. At this site there are 700 acres with 60 acres if vineyard area but only 25 currently under vine. They have removed some older early planted vines and are preparing to replant when conditions seem best (currently under severe drought).

I met up with Jack at the winery office and it was off up the hillside to the Almond Flat Vineyard where we were to meet Vineyard and Ranch manager Eliud Ortiz to take a look at how he prunes.

The Almond Flat Vineyard is one of highest vineyards in the county at 1800 ft and is planted in Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Petit Sirah.

One of the questions we had was how do you choose when to prune? The answer was not direct, as with all operations in the wine business there are many factors, but for Eliud he tries to prune as late as possible before bud break. Some time about early March -April  depending on vineyard and varietal with higher vineyards typically going into bud break first., so keeping a close eye on the vines is paramount.

Each varietal is pruned a little different but generally pruning to achieve a yield of 2-3 tons per acre. With grape clusters being different sizes each vine varietal is pruned to deliver that amount. They generally start the pruning with Sauvignon Blanc then move through to Viognier then Pinot Noir and last Petite Sirah.

After pruning they put the wires down and as the season progresses raise the wires for canopy management. 
The Sauvignon Blanc is what we played with this day and for this varietal they do spur pruning. The vineyard is planted with vines in a 3 foot spaced row with rows planted 8 feet apart. Eliud prunes back to to 12 spurs of two buds for a total count of 24 buds with each bud  new growth comes with each producing two clusters  of grapes. It takes approximately a full day to prune 400 Sauvignon Blanc vines and for an older Cabernet Sauvignon a pruner may only get 200 completed. 

Depending on the year there is always ongoing work in the vineyards. Each season brings its own character and can increase or decrease the amount of TLC needed. Whether it's leaf pulling, suckering, ground crop management, pest management, if or when to irrigate (in a drought year like the current one) or determining when you need to net to keep the birds from eating your crop, the work never stops. Eliud estimates that on average it takes at least 30 minutes per vine annually to keep a vineyard healthy. With a hand maintained vineyards like these in this area there are approximately only 2-4 bottles of wine per vine and with that amount of TLC you will never see a $10 bottle produced.
With that being said that sounds like a good idea for another article. 
This video is Eliud showing us the way. Please help Eliud get back to the ranch.
Thanks to Jack Galante of Galante Vineyards for taking the time to show us around and clue us in a little bit. After talking and watching all this work, for Eliud its back to work pruning, but for us its back to the drinking. 

Happy Tasting Adventures,

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