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And it all starts again… We prune!

Pruning consists in removing unnecessary wood from the previous year and preparing for the future harvest by guiding the growth of the vine stock. Whatever the technique chosen, a vine stock is alive. It is necessary to know how to observe and analyze it in order to adapt the effort that will be required of it. The 2021 vintage is on its way…

The story goes that during a winter tour of the monasteries, Martin de Tours took a break in the vineyards before arriving at the Abbey of Marmoutier. After tying his donkey to a stake supporting a vine, he thanked the Lord for having arrived safely at his destination, drank some water from his water bottle and, tired, lay down to take a little rest. Saint Martin fell asleep. Not the donkey! He took advantage of this break to eat and graze all the vine accessible by the length of his rope. When he woke up, Saint Martin could only notice the damage. Only one vine stock remained, stripped of its vigorous creepers. Saint Martin apologized to the monks for the behavior of his donkey, which was forgiven. But a few months later, they were astonished when, at harvest time, they harvested numerous large bunches of grapes, juicy and sweet, from the vines "pruned" by the donkey, producing a much better wine than they had ever drunk before. It would be since then that the donkeys are called Martin… and that the vines are pruned.

The double Guyot pruning is the one we have chosen because it allows us to balance the growth of the foot while sparing it and to distribute the load.

Then, like the donkey of Saint Martin, after having let the earth rest after the harvest, well before the arrival of spring, we cut down the shoots that produced the previous year in order to favor a young promising branch for the fruiting to come. An essential step of major importance, pruning is the first stone in a long series of viticultural works that contribute to the success of the future harvest.

By preventing an exaggerated lengthening of the branches, by participating in the control of the number and volume of future bunches and by limiting the quantity of buds, we favor the concentration of sap, the perenniality of the vine and the optimization of future maturations.

The decisions taken regarding the rigor of pruning have a great influence on the quality as well as on the yields of the next vintage. Some are tempted by a longer pruning (4 to 10 eyes kept per vine shoot) to guarantee - as much as possible - a harvest at the height of the crop of the quotas authorized by the AOC; we think it is wiser to prune rigorously (2 eyes per vine shoot) in order to preserve the vine and to get the best grapes possible. Not the most abundant, the best. Wine is the fruit of the terroir, the vine and the work of man. It is therefore up to him to find the right balance to accompany it in the best possible way. So, like every year, we don't run after volume.

There are many pruning techniques in France and around the world, each with its advantages and disadvantages and more or less adapted to different regions, soils and climates. Here are some of the most used.

Guyot pruning (invented by Mr Guyot!) is very widespread and is carried out on trellised vines. It exists in different forms (single Guyot, double Guyot, mixed Guyot, Guyot Poussard...) which correspond to a number of preserved spurs and sticks. Guyot pruning only keeps the fruiting buds. It is practiced in Alsace, Burgundy, Bordeaux... and at home. At Château Hourtin-Ducasse, we practice double Guyot pruning: the vine stock is structured with two arms, each carrying a side and an aste. The aste or baguette will be chosen from last year's shoots to carry the shoots of the coming year; it must be oriented in the row, in the right direction and as close as possible to the stump. Once elected, all other branches after it will be cut off. So that the bunches are as close as possible to the roots, thus reducing the length of the bean paths between roots, leaves and bunches of grapes. The cot is therefore chosen even closer to the trunk than the aste. This wood is cut very short and will give branches that can be used as an aste for the next pruning. This is the one we have chosen because it allows us to balance the growth of the stem while sparing it and to distribute the load even if it is more expensive to make. Produce without tiring the foot.

The goblet pruning is characterized by a trunk and horned arms terminated by one or two spurs each bearing two or three buds. It is used for low, unpruned vines. It is mainly practiced in Mediterranean regions; the low vines are sheltered from the wind and the falling vegetation protects the bunches from the sun. This form of vine training is poorly adapted to mechanization (mechanical harvesting, pruning and trimming of the foliage...) and for example prohibited by the Haut-Médoc appellation which requires that the vines be trellised.

Cordon de Royat pruning is used on low and high trellised vines. The vine stock is bent and on the horizontal part there are 1 or 2 horizontal arms, bearing 2 to 5 cots, installed in the direction of the trellising. It is the pruning system best adapted to mechanization (mechanical harvest, trimming and pruning …). The maturity is homogeneous because the grapes are at the same level with an often identical exposure. It is used in many regions of the world.

Lyre pruning has two trellising axes forming … a lyre. Two arms perpendicular to the row carry cots or long wood, whose branches are trellised. It allows an opening of the vine stock and a good exposure of the bunches. This method is made to avoid shady areas as well as to optimize the sunshine and ventilation of the vine. It is practiced in the Jura and in the Hautes-Côtes-de-Beaune.

Precision mechanical pruning (PMP) is a new technique which aims to reduce the cost and the drudgery of the task for the winegrower. It is a very short pruning, with one or two eyes, which determines the pruning line that will be renewed each year, at the same height. This work is most advanced in Italy.

Pruning therefore consists of removing the useless wood from the previous year and preparing for the future harvest by guiding the growth of the vine stock. Whatever the technique chosen, let's keep in mind that a vine stock is alive. It is necessary to know how to observe and analyze it in order to adapt the effort that will be required of it. Our "trimmers" have this ability to listen to the vine and this knowledge which allows them to adapt to the needs of each of our vines, on each of our plots and for each of our grape varieties. Well done Alexis, well done Christophe!

Some definitions :

Stem: woody branch of the vine - Cot or courson: portion of young wood that is kept on the vine branches; its buds will provide the new shoots for the following year - Aste or baguette: long wood left on the vine stock after pruning - Bud: embryo of a branch which is made up of a vegetative cone with leaf blanks.

Some sources :

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