Winter is Pruning Season

Pruning season at the vineyard. Is this before or after? See below.

Happy 2022 to all and may it be a great year!

 Not unlike a child’s return to school after a summer vacation, our next vintage starts afresh each year with pruning back last year’s growth from some 27,000 grapevines. Pruning is the start of our next growing season of tending to the vines. It’s one crucial factor in insuring that we produce the best grapes that Mother Nature will give us. 

Here at the winery, we are now in the midst of pruning our vineyard. Over the years we’ve had many questions about pruning. Does it differ from pruning on the Valley floor, when do you prune, why do you prune and is there a right way and a wrong way to prune? Before I give you the quick version of Pruning 101 let me say that one of my joys is pruning our vineyard. No cell phones, no interruptions, the sound of birds, the occasional hot air balloon that floats by and now my 6-month old Springer Spaniel, Tucker, darting around between the vines—it’s what life at a vineyard is all about.  I don’t get to do it as often as I’d like, but there’s hardly anything else I’d rather do on a sunny winter’s day. It’s a chance to commune with nature. 

Only after the first hard freeze, which mostly occurs mid-to-late December, do we start pruning. That freeze will kill off the soft and/or immature wood so we don’t mistakenly leave it for next year’s growth.   

We start with our bilateral-cordon-pruned red grapes by hedging back this year’s canes to about 12 inches long. It’s like giving the vines a buzz cut and we call this “pre-pruning” because we’ll come back just before bud break and finish pruning these vines.

Next we move to the Chardonnay and Riesling, which we cane-prune, which means we leave one cane of 10 buds each on each side of the vine. After that pruning is complete, we replace damaged stakes, tighten wires and cross-arms and tie the canes onto the wires.

Cane-pruned chardonnay
Cordon-trained Cabernet Franc that has been “pre-pruned”

Then it’s back to the reds that are cane-pruned in a similar fashion as the (cane pruned) Chardonnay and the Riesling…except that instead of two canes per vine, we leave three and occasionally four canes per vine. When that’s finished, just as we do with the whites, we check stakes, wires and cross-arms.

Why do we divide up the work this way? Unlike whites, red grapes are very susceptible to a fungus called Eutypa whose spores travel during rainfall and seek out the vines’ cut surfaces. We want to be pruning the reds as close to budbreak as possible so the sap that has started flowing will prevent the spores from entering the vines through the pruning wounds.

There are two concepts that overlap one another that a good pruner always keeps in mind. “Prune to vigor” is the first and means if the vine is big and healthy you should leave more budwood (canes and spurs) so the vine can produce more grapes and will thus be “balanced” with the right amount of canes, leaves and fruit. Having too little fruit on a healthy vine is not good for wine quality, just as too much fruit on a weak vine is bad for wine quality. We want more leaves and fewer grapes on a weaker vine to give that vine a chance to recover its energy and become stronger, thus we prune to that vine’s vigor and leave less budwood to balance the vine. Whatever the language, whatever the country, the principal of “prune to vigor” to “balance” the vine is universal.
While pruning isn’t rocket science, it does take time and patience to get the concepts and techniques right. From start to finish, with our crew of five people, pruning takes us from late December through late March. And what happens to those clippings? We chop them up when we mow our cover crop in the spring, returning them to the soil.

Above: Before… Cordon-trained Cabernet Franc that has been “pre-pruned”
Below: After …Cabernet Franc vines after pruning.

Time to Re-Stock?

2017 Riesling
(750 ml):
Buy: $34.00

2018 Chardonnay
(750 ml):
Buy: $45.00

2018 Cabernet Sauvignon
(750 ml):
Buy: $62.00

2016 Riesling
Buy: $125.00

Cook’s Flat Reserve

(750 ml)
Buy: $300.00

Cook’s Flat Reserve
Buy: $500.00

Terrific Trio
(2017 Riesling, 2018 Chardonnay, 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon):
Buy: $136.00

While enjoying your Smith-Madrone wines, here’s a recent profile from International Wine Review you might enjoy.

Also, Charlie discusses our current offerings on video:

Later this year, look for the release of the 2021 Smith-Madrone Rosé!

Best wishes, Stu and Charlie

Author: jreddigital

Digital Artist

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