Analog Wines For the Digital Age

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pruning at San Polino in Montalcino with Katia Nussbaum . . .

Pruning time at San Polino (and other thoughts):

In viticulture there should be a good reason behind whatever you do in your vineyards. We make organic grapes and organic wines and with our approach to farming we do not ever want to leave things to chance; we wish to be the chief protagonists in deciding how our grapes will turn out in any particular year.

Just a few weeks ago in Montalcino - brrrrrr, cold!

The preparation for our next harvest, our future Brunello 2013, started last October when we ploughed the land in between the rows of vines so that the winter rains could penetrate the soils and feed the vines. In November we seeded the fields with plants such as beans and sweet peas which would enrich the soil with nitrogen to feed the organisms that would feed the other organisms which would ultimately feed the vines. We also seeded wild flowers to encourage as many insects, fungi, bacteria and yeasts as possible into the vineyards, to make for a greater biodiversity of living species in the environment around the vines.

Then over winter everything was quiet in the vineyards, until we started the yearly pruning.

Each year the vines must be pruned so that they will produce the right amount of grapes (1kg per plant) at the right height from the ground (80cm ) with the right amount of foliage (1 square metre of leaves for every kilo of grapes). These measurements work for us, growing Sangiovese grapes for the production of the Brunello di Montalcino. They give us a medium yield of grapes with good concentration, tannins, acidity and without too much alcohol.

The advantage of having a small farm is that you can do all the necessary work at the right time.

The part of the vineyard to be pruned this week.

Farms that have large extensions of vineyards have to start their pruning process often as early as December in order to have it all finished before the first spring growth starts. This can create problems for the plants for three main reasons. Firstly, any large cuts made during the pruning process can traumatise the plant during icy weather. Secondly, early pruning can lead to early budding. This can be disastrous in the case of a late frost. Lastly, large farms will have to rely on the work of many people, so the pruning work will not always be of a consistent quality. Any lack of skill and proficiency in the pruning process can damage the production of healthy grapes in the summer.

Avni's hand leaving a grape producing bud and a lower leaf only producing bud/branch

Luckily, with only 5 hectares, we can do the pruning at the best time. This is the period just before plants begin to wake up from their winter slumber. The lymph is not yet moving and the climate is on our side, with the hard winter frosts already passed. We like to prune with a waning moon which keeps the lymph from rising and helps the plant stay dormant. You may disbelieve this, but it’s so, I’ve seen it. As the February/March moon starts to rise the plants start to drip as you cut them. The higher the moon, the more liquid they lose. It would be anthropomorphic to say that they’re crying, but it certainly feels that way when you see it!

Showing the shape and use of the cutters

We began to prune the vines this last week immediately after the full moon.

We use hand cutters, with long handles and tough sharp blades. They’re easy to manipulate and make neat, net cuts. We make only small cuts, in order to protect the plants from damage and so that they can easily seal the wounds.

We leave four spurs with two buds on each vine, making for not more than eight branches per plant as the growth starts. Most of these buds will grow into grape-producing branches but sometimes we leave lower buds that will only produce leaves, and not grapes. We do this on purpose to keep down the quantity of grapes while allowing the plant greater capacity for photosynthesis.

Katia pruning.

It takes one person 16 full time working days to prune 5 hectares of vineyard. Two people, just over a week. Long hours flat-out. While pruning we select and put aside cuttings from vines that we know produce the best grapes. We’ll use these cuttings next month for grafting onto plants that we wish to change or invigorate.

Katia's trained professional help

That’s enough for now, I’d say. Better get some sleep because there’s pruning to be got on with tomorrow!!

Katia Nussbaum – San Polino

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