We have been taking vineyard pruning classes at Santa Rosa Jr. College for the past 2 weekends. SRJC has a fabulous facility, Shone Farm where you can take Horticulture, Viticulture, Agriculture, Equine science, Sheep care and other animal and ag centered classes.
So on the past 2 Friday afternoons, we have rushed north to take in lectures in a freezing classroom, stay at the local Flamingo Hotel, and be back at the farm at 9:00 for actual pruning.
The Flamingo, known locally as the Flaming O, is a dinosaur form the 50's, but updated in a non-cheesey way. The rooms were a great price, very very clean, quiet and there is a nice outdoor jacuzzi open to 11:00 pm. All in all, a very good deal.
The classes are great. It seems everyone in Sonoma County is growing grapes in their vast backyards, and wants to make their living selling grapes. It's kind of crazy, that people just plant a bunch of clones and expect boat-loads of high quality grapes, without knowing a damn thing about what they are doing. But everyone's there to learn. The time we spent in the field made the class well worth the time and trouble. Once in the vineyard, everything makes sense and the teacher is able to impart her indepth knowledge of the vine.
Last weekend we practiced "spur pruning" at the college farm, then went to the Kendall-Jackson demonstration vineyard , which also contains a culinary plant garden area. I'd like to check it out in the late spring, once everything starts growing again. After we worked hard pruning their vines, the gentle people in the tasting room treated us to a free tasting. Their Sauvinon Blanc was my favorite.
This is an example of spur pruning:
The "arms" or cordons were trained out on the fruiting wire a few years ago. Each winter, the fruiting canes are cut back, almost to the cordon, leaving 2 buds per spur, which will push into this years fruit bearing sprouts.
The next weekend we went out to a large vineyard to practice cane pruning. Whereas spur pruning is rather cut-and-dry, cane pruning requires a lot of creativity and decision making. Your cuts not only determine which canes will bear fruit this year, but how the vine will be shaped next year, and you want to think of preserving buds for the next year as well as this.
Here we have turned onto the property. we have a lot of driving to go...
First we pass a block of Sauvignon blanc. This used to be a stand of redwood trees. It's beautiful and all, but I can't help but be concerned about the habitat loss and environmental impact of clear cutting this land for yet more grape vines. This is the big issue that the wine industry needs to face up to. I feel like they hide behind the romantic cloak of "man's relationship with the land" with all of the terroir sentiment added on to it. But what it boils down to is tearing up land, planting agriculture, robbing native flora and fauna and introducing various pesticides to the environment.
Never-the-less, it's beautiful here on a cold misty morning and I love being so far away from signs of civilization.
Here we have "bilateral cordon spur trained split canopy" vines. It looks like they have saved a cane on each spur, probably for frost protection. It's been below 32 degrees for many nights now.
Our instructor on the left helps out a fellow student. In the foreground is my newly pruned and trained vine. Even on cane pruned vines, you always leave what's called "renewal spurs." This is to guarantee bud potential for the following year.
On this vine I left no spurs. This is the revolution going on in viticulture right now. Developed here in Sonoma county, it's sending shivers down the spines of vineyard managers worldwide. It will take a few years to see if this new pruning method pans out successfully.
I brought these Sauvignon blanc and Merlot canes home. They root like willows, and it will be fun to watch the buds push and perhaps we'll get to see the leaves.