On first glance, winter in the vineyard can seem like a still and deathly quiet time. The exuberance and bustle of harvest time has passed, leaves drop and the vineyard’s colour drains away. Inside, the year’s fruit enters its new life in the barrel as outside, the vines take their rest. It’s easy to think that everything is sleeping, but for us, winter has many demands. It heralds the start of a new year’s cycle – as the vineyard is prepared for the next vintage.
One of the key tasks in any vineyard at this time of year is pruning. The process of pruning vines is essential for ensuring an abundant harvest in the coming year, and for us it’s certainly no small job. With 20 hectares under vine it can take up to five weeks to work through the entire vineyard, and typically at this time of the year you can expect to see a team of around 30 of us out in the cold, snipping away at the vines, pruning by hand.
Originally the vineyard was ‘spur’ pruned. This is where a permanent branch is set up on the trellis wire – so two arms are trained along the horizontal wires – which is a fairly common form of vine pruning. This type of pruning is to leave a small number of canes with multiple buds. The canes grow from the top of the trunk of the vine.
This year however, we chose to hand prune using the arch cane system in a bid to improve vine quality. The process of arch cane pruning is becoming increasingly popular in smaller vineyards, and is especial suited to cooler climates. We’re confident that the move will prove to be a positive one.
So what’s the upshot? We made the change because it’s shown to improve the evenness of budburst, shoot growth, canopy density, bunch exposure and ripeness. More importantly for us though, this method of pruning ensures a balanced vine, which means that each vine has the potential to produce fruit of optimal quality.
We’ve also opted to slightly delay our pruning this year with the aim of delaying budburst. This is so flowering can happen later, when the weather is warmer and when there’s less risk of the high winds that can often damage the future grape bunches, leaving the vines out of balance. Typically we’ll see the pinot vines burst first in early September, while the latest to burst are cabernet and shiraz.
Perhaps the biggest job that has kept us busy these past couple of months though has been reworking our cabernet block, as part of our plan to produce a classic Bordeaux style red. Typically, ‘Bordeaux style’ is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot, so we’ve removed 23 rows of cabernet sauvignon to make way for the missing Bordeaux links (cab-merlot, cab-franc, malbec and the petit verdot). We’ll also be producing a straight cabernet franc as part of our portfolio, which we think is pretty exciting.
Meanwhile, our 2014 vintage pinot and viognier are about to be bottled and we’re about to kick off barrel sample tastings of our 2015 vintage wines to see how they’ve been tracking. So while the vines are dormant, vineyard and winery activity certainly is not! Winter is as busy a season for us as any other.