After our autumn post-harvest break, Christmas celebrations, ringing in the new year, etc. in late winter and throughout spring, we growers get busy. The infrastructure required to support our vineyard trellis systems, irrigation, farming machines, and other details generally unseen to the passerby appreciating vineyard beauty are all checked on, refreshed, and repaired as needed before we get started pruning. For some growers who are adding to their vineyards, planting preparations are underway. (An article, I’ll provide at a different time). We also amend our soils or provide nutrient replenishments through our drip irrigation or by hand dressing at each vine’s ground level. Some of us use some preemergent weed prevention as well. We like to get ahead of the weed battles.
Without getting too technical or scientific, the following are details about what I’ve got going on in my small vineyard. One of the most critically important annual activities we complete is PRUNING! Pruning sets the stage for the vines to grow not only in the coming season but for the following two to three seasons. In our smaller vineyard, as in many many others, we do all the activities for pruning by hand, working vine to vine until we are done. Nearly ninety percent of the previous season’s growth is cut off. In 2017 when I started pruning our first acre, a neighbor stopped and gave me a hard time asking, “Why are you cutting away all of last year’s progress?” He didn’t believe me that pruning was as harsh as it appears and necessary. He stopped back a few days later and told me he “researched this” and, “You were right.” He said, “I didn’t believe you.”
We are in the Texoma AVA of North Texas and have over 2,100 vines to prune (nearly four acres planted). Due to the threat of spring freezes and frosts (quite often in mid-April here), I want our vines to remain asleep or dormant as long as possible, thus I try to delay my fine or final pruning as long as I am able. In the seven years I’ve been grape farming, typically around St. Patrick’s Day here, is when I have begun fine pruning which can take up to 30 days. The weather is not always cooperative, so we are often delayed. For grower friends of mine further south in the Gulf Coast or Hill Country, they complete final pruning quite often by the end of February (if not sooner) because temperatures start warming up and the vines decide to wake up. This year, still in a drought period and after a milder winter, all signs indicated an early vine awakening was coming in almost every region. The famous song from the 70s “The Hustle” became the theme.
Luckily, we have great friends who like to volunteer, and they showed up to help us rough prune on two different weekends. They cut off all the twisted and tangled upper growth for me, leaving about eighteen-inch canes. This helped slow down the wake-up factor, but just a little bit. We had waves of warmer late February and early March days with lots of sunshine, so our vines weren’t getting the hint to “slow down” and stay asleep.
My husband, my one vineyard worker, and I do all the final pruning here with some occasional part time helpers. By final, I mean selecting the best shoot positions and number of buds we’d like to leave on each vine for the growing season. It takes some practice to feel well versed as a pruner. We quite often stare at each vine as if it’s a little puzzle we’re solving, and we imagine visually where these buds will grow directionally in our future canopy. We want to leave the vine set up to grow favorably in a vertical direction, create room for natural air circulation and sunshine, and for our future beautiful grape clusters to develop and thrive so we can make great Texas wine from the fruits of our labors.
After bud burst, our next important task, right along with pruning, is SHOOT THINNING. Quite often our vines push buds from positions so small we don’t see them whilst fine pruning (some are simply a crazy surprise) and depending upon the variety (Tempranillo for example), we leave an extra bud here or there as insurance in case that freeze or frost, I mentioned does happen. We check each vine carefully noting those spur positions I desire, and we remove the unwanted new green foliar growth before it gets too far along. We’re again doing what we’re able to do to direct our vertical canopy to develop in such a way to produce wonderful grapes for the coming vintage wine production for you to eventually enjoy when we decide it’s ready