Silvia’s Wine Adventure – Part I

March 13, 2009
by Silvia

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Ever wonder what’s involved in growing grapes to produce wine? Silvia has. She has enrolled in a class this year, which teaches students the practical, hands-on side of growing grapes. This multi-part posting began in February with some basic pruning and goes on throughout the year until the fall harvest.

Pruning vines is one of the most important tasks of a vintner during the year. It is the foundational work for the upcoming growing season and subsequent harvest.

Vineyards can look a bit on the shaggy side by winter’s end– sort of like Struwwelpeter who desperately needs a haircut. In the same way, vines also need a trim…and the trick is to prune the correct branches in order to make weak vines stronger and stronger vines a bit…well…less strong. Of course, the goal of all of this pruning is to make the wine maker’s tasks easier while managing grape yield and vintage quality.

And so on, and so on… All of this and more I learned while studying for my WSET diploma. I even had to learn which hormone in the root system gives the vine a kick start after the soil temperature rises above 10 degrees centigrade. Yes, I know quite a bit about wine and how wine is made…but, that’s all theory, and now it’s time to move over to the practical side…  

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I started my vine growing class in Landquart…and definitely not in warm and cozy conditions. The course started with a brief refresher of some theory, and then my fellow students and I ventured out into the cold vineyard in neighboring Malans.

Our task sounded easy enough – cut the Pinot Noir vines until three branches with six to eight eyes were left, but not any shorter for this grape variety. The reason…the first two eyes closest to the old wood do not produce grapes. A total of three branches are left, because two of the branches will be used to produce this year’s new growth and grapes and the third branch will act as a sort of frost damage insurance.

Technical Note: We also learned this method of pruning is used specifically in this vineyard, because there is a lot of space available between the vines. Vineyards with less space would only keep one branch to produce grapes for the coming year. Oh…but, now I’ve digressed back into theory…

Standing in front of the vines armed with hand shears and a saw, then using these tools to cut away most of the branches requires courage. My respect for these old vines arose. Every year this vine produces grape bunches which are turned into very good wine. “What if I chose the wrong branch to snip away?” kept creeping into my mind. But, after trimming a few vines (and my certainty the vines belonged to the school), my fears began to subside and the task became easier. Besides, there’s always the theory of leaning by doing…and these hearty vines have managed to survive past students.

The day was indeed fun…although I realized it is much easier to study theory in winter when it is warm and cozy at home. Doing the actual work is freezing and wet. But, at the end of the day I had a row of vines which I will be responsible for during the year – a row with my name on it.

Continuing in mid-March…

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