This January we were honored with a visit from “The Italian Pruning Guys”. The group travels the world teaching vintners the Simon and Sirch method of pruning. The method has been developed to extend vines’ lifespans. I was shocked to learn that the average vine lives less than 20 years in Europe. Increasing a vines’ lifespan is not only critical to achieving the highest quality of wine possible from mature, established plants; but here in California where water usage is often a critical sustainability issue – and new vines take much more water to establish roots – augmenting the life of vines could help vintners become much better stewards of our shared ecosystem.
Simon and Sirch: Boiled Down
The key take away from the presentation is just how deep scar tissue develops once a pruning cut is made. If a cut is made too close to the cordon, the scar tissue expands into the sap channel, creating what the Pruning Guys label as a triangular desiccation area. The obstruction of sap makes it harder for the vine to feed its new growth, weakening the plant and eventually leading to its premature death.
The other issue, and perhaps even more logical, is that the larger the pruning cut the deeper the scar tissue, and the more significant the damage to the long term health of the vine.
The solution is to make pruning cuts at least a centimeter away from the channel, and then to continue that march outwards every year, never hacking off older, thicker growth.
The first thing that struck me about the Pruning Guys is how they try to think as if they are inside the vine, as passionately explained in an Italian Ted Talk. As a winery that stresses that viticultural and winemaking processes should be artisanal rather than academic – the only way we get better is through experience and adaptation – this approach rings true.
We firmly believe that a vineyard with the appearance of wildness creates more interesting, dynamic wine over a cookie-cutter, manicured site. Biodiversity breeds health. Furthermore, from a personal perspective, perfectly hedged vineyards with straight bare-stripes of Round Up spray are just lame.
With pruning cuts ranging outward each year, our vines will take on a less tamed, more natural look.
Valuable Insight Just In Time
With the depleted conditions of the past couple drought years, we began to see a few vines weaken and partially die off, especially in our oldest 20-25 year old blocks. We sprang into action creating new cordons for the weakened areas to give the vine a renewed avenue to photosynthesize and fruit. Along with most of California vintners, we attributed this weakening to Eutypa and other vine fungi. However, we now see that some of the vine weakening could be attributed to restricted sap flows caused by pruning scar tissue. Regardless, the Simon and Sirch technique will also combat fungi by making the fungal entry point further removed from the vines’ life-blood sap flow. And through smaller cuts, there will be less over-all canker exposure in which fungi enter the vine.
We are excited to jump into the refined pruning technique this February, and we look forward to a wild, healthy, old vineyard in the years (and generations!) to come!