PRUNING VINES – January to March every year!

When icicles hang by the wall,
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,…
(Shakespeare)

I have been living in the heart of the Loire Valley for over 15 years and these cold, crisp mornings always remind me of those poems I had to learn as a kid in the early 1960’s. They all come back to me. I wonder if kids today still have to learn them by heart.

It really was “brillig” this morning. And if “Dick, the shepherd” had still been around he would have been blowing his nail, too. It was the week before Christmas.  It was minus 11° celsius! This is very good for the vines, however. It freezes all the little bugs in the wood of the vines and enables the plant to carry forth without hindrance of pests during the budding season. Jean-Marc always tells me that we need at least minus 8° celsius for 3 consecutive days in winter for a good grounding for the spring buds.

The pruning of the vines is the work which most wine-growers hate. It is invariably cold, grey, dull, snowing or raining and, above all, tedious.

Every single vine has to be prunedby hand!

It lasts from late November to the end of March. The growers do little other than prune during these months.

Most of them take a CD or radio into the vines so they can listen to their favourite programmes or music.

I have tried to get the viticulture associations to make a CD for the growers to learn enough English while pruning to be able to communicate the splendours of their Loire Valley wines to passing tourists. My pleas have fallen on deaf ears so far.

In our region, or appellation” (Touraine), there are two different ways of pruning depending on the type of grape and the required abundance of the harvest – the “goblet” style and the “Guillot” (Guyot) style.

The goblet style is cut quite short. The branches are pruned close to the stump. They are about 2 inches in length. They each have about 2 eyes only. This type of pruning is for the young, vital vines which have an excess of zeal in the spring budding season. This is typically used for the gamay and côt (malbec) varietals.

Guillot/Guyot pruning is used for the more subdued, older and less abundant vines, such as the sauvignon blanc or cabernet varietals. The Guillot pruning is very short apart from one (or, in some cases, two) very long branch. The long branch has about 7 eyes. Later in spring this branch is lowered and clipped onto a wire.

In either case there should be no more than 10 eyes left on the vine.

Jean-Marc has made himself a « prune-mobile ».

This is a small vehicle in which he sits. He manoevers it sideways down the vines. It is covered on the top and there are flaps on the ends so he is out of the way of intemperate weather! However, that’s another story…                                                                            (Guillot style pruning)

I shall continue to keep you updated with the life of a wine-grower in France.

First published January 2008

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