le tasting room

Loire wine tours, tastings, day trips from Paris & short breaks organised by experienced English wine trade professionals.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Pruning in the Loire valley

Now that grapes are gathered in, leaves are starting to fall and winter is approaching, vignerons are beginning to think about pruning the vines in readiness for next year's harvest.

As a rule, it's better to wait until the vines are completely dormant before pruning as the sap will have receded and generally it's better for them to have a period of complete rest with a good dose of cold weather to kill off any lingering bugs and diseases. In some vineyards, pruning begins within a couple of weeks of vintage - leaves still clinging to the canes. I'm rather critical of this practice as when it comes to producing quality wine, delaying pruning is one of the criteria. Not only does it give the vines a chance to rest but the later the pruning, the later the vine bursts back into action the following season. Stands to reason in a cool climate region such as the Loire that this makes sense - less chance of problems around budburst and flowering, decreased risk of frost damage at a tender stage of development. But, the reality of pruning here in the Loire is a different issue.

A couple of years ago an initiative was launched to encourage the unemployed to be trained by competent vignerons in the art of pruning. I know of several producers locally who embraced the idea. A skilled pruner arrives with a team of 'trainees' and they prune together. The problem with this is that not all trainees have the 'eye' required to make the right decisions. The end result is a badly pruned vineyard and while the vines will continue to produce fruit (like most plants, vines bounce back), they often produce too much, the fruiting zone can be in the wrong place, the crown of the vine too high.

So, in an ideal world, a competent team will sweep through the vineyard during the winter (typically end of December onwards) but the reality is often far from this ideal. Vignerons firstly have to find willing seasonal employees who have the ability to make the right decisions and ensure that pruning is finished in time. Which is where we come back to early pruning - many producers start early because they don't have enough people to wait until the time is right.

It has become increasingly difficult to find skilled labour when it comes to pruning vines in the region. Methods are dicated by the appellation and it does take a certain amount of skill to make the 'right cut'. It requires quick and efficient analysis of the vines one at a time, moving quickly through the vineyard.

We'll be doing some pruning in Anjou in the new year so will take some precise before and after shots and post them on the blog. Until then - we'll be holding off. Maybe you'd like to come and join us in the Spring and have a look for yourself.

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