It’s high season for pruning vines in Switzerland, the job grape growers say determines whether or not they will have the best possible grapes. The quality of future wines is at stake. I spent a chilly afternoon last week with Isabella and Stéphane Kellenberger of Vin d’Oeuvre winery, above their village of Leuk-Stadt in Valais, learning to prune vines.
I am a pruning wimp. I had the idea that I might ruin some of their Pinot Noir by chopping too little or too much. The electric clippers are way too efficient for my taste; if they can zip through an old chunk of wood, imagine what they can do to a finger.
For armchair pruners like me, start by learning the body parts, at a safe distance.
Most vines cultivated in Switzerland are trained or trellised. The trunk, which is the sturdiest bit, supports the vegetative bits (shoots, leaves, flowers, grapes). The top of the trunk is called the head. Its height is determined early in the vine’s life, by pruning. Key factors for deciding this are keeping disease and unwanted creatures at bay and ease of labour for vine workers. The first line of the wire is roughly where the head is for the widely used single cordon spur training system.
Going out from the head we have arms (forget about shoulders, although we use the term when we describe grapebunches), “short branches from which canes and/or spurs originate”. And we’ll stop there for now because the growers out in the vineyards this month are mainly pruning down to the arms where they don’t want growth and keeping a small part of the spurs where they want the sap to flow. When the sap rises through the trunk and moves along the underside of the canes, and weeps from these cuts in a few weeks, the vines will be preparing for new spring growth.