Kenwood Press

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Journey to Harvest: 03/01/2017

2017 Journey has begun

Pruning sets the vines for the entire season to come.

It’s a new year and the journey to harvest for vintage 2017 has begun. This will be our 17th year writing about the annual journey we make from dormant vines to wonderful wines here on Indian Springs Ranch. As I sit in my upstairs office looking out at Hood Mountain, I marvel at how far our family has come together on this unique patch of Sonoma Valley terroir, and I look forward with optimism to the beginning of another journey for us, for the vines, and for the land that remembers it all.

Pruning math and bud management

Vine pruning is not an arbitrary activity in the vineyard. On the contrary, it is one of the most important viticultural activities affecting the quality of fruit that will be harvested in the fall. Pruning influences crop levels, maturity rates, flavor intensity, sugar levels, and even color.

As I write, a team of young workers, most from Mexico, are busy pruning our soggy vineyard. Many of the men have been with us for years; their intimate knowledge of our vineyard is a critical element in our family’s quest to perfect our wine grapes.

Today’s bare canes that were full of foliage last summer, are full of new buds, each bud holding the secret to this year’s harvest. Each bud cautions me, “Patron, listen up … if you don’t prune me I will deliver another bunch of grapes for this year’s harvest.” If not pruned, the potentially hundreds of buds would try to produce a crop so large it could never ripen. So while each bud’s plea to mature touches me deeply, it’s time to get down to the serious business of bud management and pruning math.

If the pruner leaves too many buds, it will result in too many grapes for the vine to ripen to perfect maturity at the same time, which can cause no small amount of havoc at harvest time, and significantly impact grape quality. Too few buds and the vine will spend its extra energy growing excess foliage, potentially giving the grapes undesirable vegetative flavors and aromas. So how do we hit this magical goal of getting every grape on the ranch to become ripe and ready for harvest at the same time? How do we learn the exact right number of buds to leave?

As with most things agricultural, the many years of experience with our vines and soil types have taught us that the typical vine on our ranch will happily mature about 25 pounds of fruit. We’ve weighed the bunches at harvest over many years, and our Sauvignon Blanc bunches typically weigh about .3 pounds, the Zinfandel .6 pounds, and the Merlot tips the scale at about .45 pounds per bunch. Knowing the typical bunch weight of the variety enables the pruner to compute how many buds to leave on a typical vine, with no more than two buds per cane.

Simple, right? Well…maybe if there was such a thing as a “typical” vine. But that’s just not the real world. Some vines are weaker, some more vigorous. Variations in the terroir across the vineyard impact individual vines.

The secret to good pruning (hence good grape quality, hence great tasting wine) is to have each vine and its crop load in balance, so that the entire crop will mature evenly and be ready for harvest at the same time. A little math gives the pruner a great starting point from which to apply his or her experience and judgment to leave just the right number of buds.

There are other factors to consider as well. The ongoing trend of reduced labor availability and increasing cost of labor is forcing us to take a hard look at the pruning structure of our vines. By converting to bilateral pruning (two base branches per vine) from quadrilateral (four base branches per vine), we expect to realize dual benefits – strengthening older vines, and making it easier for our expert team to prune each vine.

Now you can see why we value so highly our wonderful team of pruners. Their knowledge of the craft and familiarity with our particular ranch is an absolutely essential component of our never-ending quest for ultimate grape quality.

Owner, Indian Springs Ranch and Vineyards

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