Pruning Gaps Crown Vineyard - Video

Last week I was lucky enough to meet Rob Harris of Price Family Vineyards for a pruning tutorial at Gaps Crown. We started off in Bruliam block 13, clone 777, which is cane pruned on the Guyot system. It’s a labor intensive and thought provoking method. But before I launch into too many details, let’s zoom out and get the big picture. Pruning means cutting away plant material to manage vigor and capacity for the forthcoming growing season. Very broadly, vigor is the height and amount of green vegetation. If you have sprawling, mega-long shoots without many grape clusters, you’ve got too much vigor. If you’ve got lots of grapes without enough leafy photosynthesis engines to get the berries ripe, you ain’t got enough. “Capacity” encompasses all in growth- vine, roots, shoots, clusters, all of it. An ideal pruning regimen matches the capacity of the soil (fertile? Or not?) to the capacity of the plant (productive or puny). The geographical area, climate, and intended use and goals for the fruit all play a big part too. Pruning manages the crop so site and productivity make sense. We typically call this vine balance, eluding to a tricky but very necessary balance between vegetative growth and reproductive growth (foliage vs. fruit).

Now back to Gaps. Guyot is ninja pruning. It’s a balls-to-the-wall, no insurance policy system. You lay down a cane that becomes the nidus for the current growing season, without leaving any replacement spurs. And yes, it’s a bit like it sounds. If you make a mistake, you can’t “replace” it. Each cut impacts fertility, foreshadows light exposure, and regulates shoot position and cluster count. There’s also the double whammy that you’re simultaneously considering the fruiting cane for the following year (2015) and while trouble shooting mistakes from last year. No pressure here. In the Guyot pruning universe, a misguided cut from 2012 might well still plague vines today. Pruning is always done in the light of the previous year(s) and in the anticipation of the coming year(s). As Rob notes, “It’s a rolling cycle. You never make a pruning decision in a vacuum.” But enough theoretical; it was time to get real.

Together, we’d look at a vine, and I’d offer a suggestion. I was usually wrong. Ever patient, Rob would explain why I’d made a poor choice and what he’d do differently. You can deliberate a single cut for 5 or 10 minutes. Just for comparison, an experienced vineyard crew is expected to prune those vines at a rate of about 1 vine per minute, including clearing their bush. Now extrapolate that over 100’s of acres. It’s no wonder that Guyot pruning requires so much time and skill. Though there are some systems around that can actually be more time and thought intensive, the Guyot is a tough one. Luckily, I had my trusty Roshambo scissors to fall back on.

Next we visited a chardonnay block with cordon training, like our home ranch, Torrey Hill. Cordons are the long, thick permanent shoots that remain in place from year to year. Pruning here is more straightforward. You aim for spurs a hand’s width apart and prune back to two buds. Finally, Rob handed me actual shears.

In the video below, you’ll see my pruning tutorial in action. I’ve added some cartoons to help illustrate the process. This clip showcases a glorious, clear, Sonoma Coast “winter” day.  The girl in me loves the sunshine. The farmer in me fears the drought.

If you can't see the video below, please click here.

Pruning Gaps Crown Vineyard from Brian Overstreet on Vimeo.