Pruning Time

It’s February, and that means pruning in the vineyard. This morning the thermometer reads 17 degrees, and John says it’s so dry you can’t see your breath. Pruning is a hellish job in weather like this. Hand warmers and toe warmers are small luxuries that barely help.

John likes to patch his jacket with duct tape. Stylish and effective!

Every single vine in our twenty-five acre vineyard must be pruned, and like everything else on Ox-Eye, it’s done by hand—a daunting task, but not always unpleasant if the sun is warm and your iPod is charged. On days like this, though, music from iPods only stings ears that are already throbbing in the frigid air.

We prune for many reasons. The obvious is to maintain the vine’s form for easier management. A vineyard could look like kudzu if allowed free growth. Pruning concentrates the grape clusters for easier harvest, and allows the grower control over bud quality and quantity. Growers also control quality by insuring a healthy balance of grapes to vine.

Notice the horse in the background? We let our horses roam about the vineyard in the winter to increase their pasture. Surprisingly, they don’t hurt the vines at all.

The cordon is the heavy vine that lies along the fruiting wire. We spur prune by snipping last year’s growth off the cane, the spurs, down to two buds.

Got a long way to go, buddy.

Pruning is done when the vine is dormant: after the leaves have fallen and before bud break. Ideally, pruning will be finished before sap starts to rise, but that rarely happens at Ox-Eye. Many vineyards start pruning as soon as the leaves drop, but at Ox-Eye we wait until January, when the vines are in deep dormancy. By doing this, we not only have a clearer picture of winter kill (hopefully not a whole vine), but we also retard the advent of bud break. Slowing bud break is vital in Virginia, where we often have spring frosts and freezes that can destroy a crop. Bud break usually happens mid-April.

We primarily spur prune (as opposed to cane prune). Spur pruning involves snipping back last year’s growth (the spurs) off the cordon, an older cane that lies along the fruiting wire. We leave about two buds on each spur. These buds will break open in the spring, flower, and hopefully be grape clusters in the summer.

Occasionally we’ll see a cane that’s been damaged or has bad spacing between spurs. In this case, we’ll cane prune; that is, we’ll cut off the old cordon and lay down one of its long, healthy spurs in its place. Some grape varieties respond better to cane pruning, but generally we spur prune.

As you can see from the pictures, we’ve got a long way to go this winter. Keep it moving, John!


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