What is Pruning the vines? Importance & Methods

What is the pruning 

The vines can be pruned in long, short pruning*, guyot, cordon de Royat, goblet...

Because the vine is a liana, it must be pruned and trellised to produce always more fruit than wood. An unpruned vine will offer numerous grapes, but small and acidic, not exploitable to produce a quality wine.

Pruning is the main activity in winter during the vegetative rest of the vine, is manual and takes place from December to March.

But beware! The earlier you prune, the earlier the buds will hatch, bringing risks of frost. The winegrower proceeds to what is called dry pruning. It is a long work where 80% of the shoots are eliminated. Traditionally, it is done using mechanical pruning shears with one or both hands.

Today, technological advances have brought winegrowers electric pruning shears with a portable battery that allow them to increase the force tenfold and to prune with one hand.

Pruning therefore consists of removing the useless wood from the previous year and preparing the future harvest by guiding the growth of the vine stock.

Do not forget that a vine stock is alive. It is necessary to know how to observe and analyse it in order to adapt the effort that will be required of it, in particular by forecasting the number of bunches for the coming year. Pruning is the essential factor in the search for quality.

* We speak of short pruning when we leave only 2 to 3 eyes per shoot.

Why to prune the vine?

Pruning meets 3 objectives.

1) to fight against natural development of the vine in length causing an exaggerated lengthening of its branches. This is called acrotony, the tendency of the vine to feed its buds close to the top with sap.

2) to control by pruning the number and volume of the future bunches in order to have an optimal harvest and ripening.

3) limit the number of buds to adapt the vine to the possibilities of the environment. To have a suitable vigour and to ensure the perennity of the vine. But beware, excessive pruning exhausts the vine!

In conclusion, pruning must be adapted to each vine stock according to its general condition. If it is vigorous, it will be able to support a greater load of grapes. If it has an average development, a light pruning is sufficient to help it regain enough strength to give its best potential the following year.

The most common pruning styles

There are many different styles of pruning in France and around the world. Wire driving, which has gradually replaced trellising on stilts, can induce different forms of development and involves different types of pruning.

First of all, let us specify that 2 pruning styles can be practiced :

- The short pruning: only one or two eyes are kept per shoot.
- The long pruning: four to ten eyes are kept per shoot.

The pruning also differs according to the type of vine (low or high). The most common are :

Guyot pruning
of the name of its inventor. It is carried out on trellised vines. It is a quick and easy pruning system. It is ideal for grape varieties whose maximum fertility (number of bunches that the bud will give) is on buds of high rank on the vine shoot, chardonnay or pinot blanc for example. But this pruning is exhausting for the plant because it requires a lot of energy to make all the buds of the stick bloom. Often, the maturity of the harvest lacks homogeneity. There are two variants of pruning known as Guyot pruning:

The simple Guyot has a long wood (with 5 to 8 buds) and a spur (with two buds). The cane will be formed by the upper shoot and the spur by the lower shoot. A wire trellis is necessary for this pruning system.

Double Guyot: the vine stock is structured with two arms each carrying a spur and a long wood (rod) whose length varies according to the vigour of the grape variety. The cane will be formed by the upper vine shoot and the spur by the lower vine shoot. Wire trellising is also necessary for this pruning system. It is practiced in the Bordeaux region, the South-West, the Loire, Champagne, etc.).

A summary of the different sizes in Guyot
- Burgundian single Guyot: with a two-eyed spur and, a little higher up, a rod with about six eyes ;
- Bordeaux double Guyot: with one or two spurs and two flat rods;
- Guyot double (for tall vines): with two spurs and two arched rods, with ten to twelve eyes;
- Mixed Guyot: 1 rod with 6 to 8 eyes on the left and one spur on the right, alternating each year;
- Mixed Nantes Guyot: 1 rod and 2 spurs spread over 2 or 3 heads.
- Guyot Poussard: single guyot waist with 2 arms, one of which carries a spur and the second carries a stick

What is Racking the wine in the barrels ?

This operation done by the master-cellar or winemaker decants the wine during the maturing process to eliminate undesirable deposits. This operation can be repeated several times usually every 3 month during the ageing period.

It is a life-size decanting, a "cleaning-up" of the wine. The purpose of racking is to separate the wine from its natural lees during maturing. By this operation, the winemaker eliminates the deposits that have become undesirable, made up of fermentation residues and precipitated tartar that accumulate at the bottom of the barrel. Prolonged contact between these residues and the wine can lead to aromatic deviations, reduced, bad tastes and even some times disease and bacterias.

In concrete terms, the wine is transferred from barrel to barrel first by gravity then draining or pushing by neutral gas. For red wines for laying down, racking is often done with intermediate aeration. The operation, through subtle chemical reactions, flavors the formation of aromas and the maturation of tannins, fixes the color and reduced odors. The moment of racking is determined by the wine maker and master cellar. Here again, the "best" is the enemy of the "good": too many rackings can oxidize or deplete the wine.

The best way to do it is to use a candle, as only natural candlelight will allow the winemaker to see the sediments and deposit through the glass.

The quality and number of rackings have a huge influence on the success of the ageing process and the final product. Practices differ according to the region, the grape varieties, the color and nature of the wines, the vintages and the barrels. Usually in Bordeaux racking is done every 3 month for a total of ageing of 15 month.

"When the rackings are carried out at the right time, the result is wines with a clear, more brilliant color and brightness. They are marked by great purity and a crystalline aspect, both in terms of aroma and taste. On the nose and in the mouth, you can detect a beautiful expression of fruit and aromas. The wines gain in substance, complexity and flavors. They are also more frank and easier to approach. On the other hand, if you find not very bright color or some bad taste, you can deduce that the racking was badly done or made at the wrong time. So, Racking is a crucial and decisive stage in the maturing of wines.

There are several ways to extract. One of them is racking by draining the wine and then pumping it out with intermediate aeration, as here in Burgundy.

1)  The winemaker tilts the barrel slightly.
2) The wine flows into a container where it is aerated for a few minutes. The lees remain in the barrel, which is then washed.
3) The wine is then pumped back into another barrel, which is clean with hot water.
4) The empty barrels are cleaned and sterilized by  burning some sulfite tablets inside
5) The barrel is full-up with new clear wine.

See how it works on the next video, filmed in the cellar of Chateau Lafite Rothschild

Chateau Gazin (Pomerol)

Located on the right bank of Bordeaux just next to the appellation of Saint Emilion, Pomerol is one of the smallest wine region in Bordeaux. Pomerol is well known for producing smooth red merlot wines very soft, fruity and elegant. The most expensive wines from Bordeaux are coming and produced in Pomerol and Petrus is for sure the most famous one around this region.

Chateau Gazin formerly belonged to the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem (the order of Malta). and is one of the largest estates in its appellation (Pomerol). The vineyard is in a single block on the upper part of the famous Pomerol plateau located just next to the big star "Petrus".
For the little story, chateau Gazin sol one hectare of land and vineyards to Petrus few years ago.

Gazin is currently owned by the Bailliencourt family. Descended from the lords of Landas, the Bailliencourt dit Courcol family is one of the oldest in the Province of Artois. The name Courcol (meaning "short collar") was given to an ancestor by Philippe Auguste King of France in 1214 due to his bravery in time of war. Louis Soualle, the great-grandfather of the present owners, acquired Chateau Gazin in the early 20th century and the estate continue to be carefully managed by his descendants.

The vineyard is composed of 24 hectares of land located on the plateau de Pomerol.
The soil is mainly made of Clay-Gravel with some Günz gravels.
The grape varieties used in the blend are almost 90% of merlot and 7% cabernet sauvignon and 3% cabernet franc.

Because of the global warming, the chateau is slowly replacing the merlot in order to improve the quantity of cabernet franc which seems to me more adapted to warm temperature.

The grapes are fermented in concrete vats and malolactic fermentation takes place in barrel, after which the wine is also aged in aok. It is then fined with egg whites and, if need by lightly filtered before bottling at the chateau.
The wine will age for around 18 month in barrels and the chateau is using 50% new oak barrels every year.

The annual production (80% exported) can attain up to 100,000 bottles (including 30,000 for the second wine named l'Hospitalet de Gzin). Chateau Gazin belongs to the Academie des Vins de Bordeaux.

The chateau is open to the visit on week day only and closed the week-end and during the Primeurs week.

I had the chance to visit few times, and tasted some great vintages as 2009, 2010, 2015. The visit is also very nice as the owner M Nicolas de Bailliencourt is personally taking care of the visitors which is a real privilege.
If you visit he will spend about 1h30 with you sharing is knowledge and passion for its vineyard.