Pruning Grapevines in Provence is Hard Work
For grapevines to continue producing high-quality grapes, they need annual pruning. This activity is time-consuming, physical and necessary for the long term health of the vines. Göran Boman, the author of The Wines of Provence – Tricolour, wrote the article below. Based in Sweden, far from Provence’s vineyards, he has visited many times, and his knowledge of the vineyards and wines of the region is impressive.
There are only two pruning methods in Provence, Gobelet, a free-growing bush-form that comes from the French word for goblet (Gobelet) and Cordon de Royat, where the double version with “arms in both directions” is the most common.
The Gobelet pruning gives a more three-dimensional shape that can protect the bunches of grapes from the scorching sun, which can otherwise provide tons on boiled or dried fruit. On the other hand, the Cordon de Royat pruning is more labour-intensive as the shoots later must be tied up on steel wires, allowing mechanical harvesting of the grapes.
When you see the manual grape harvest, it looks quite inconsolable with row after row of grapes to be harvested in a short time, so a large and happy crew is required during the harvest if it is not done mechanically. In the same way, it looks inconsolable during the pruning work, but even here, there is a whole crew out doing the pruning.
During the growing season, the vine looks strong with all its shoots with bunches of grapes, but when the leaves have fallen off, it is reminiscent of a furry dog that comes up from the bath, i.e. a rather slender creature. Also, it is fascinating that the vine can withstand such hard pruning where virtually 100% of last year’s branches are cut off. Keep reading here to find out when to prune the vines.
Tending the Vines
The reality is winemakers encounter challenges every month of the year. Mother Nature continually delivers unpredictable weather that might result in drought conditions, late spring frosts and 2021 high winds and fire.
Winter pruning looks severe, but we know that grapes grow on old rootstock. Buds on older branches yield leaves or shoots. So, we get rid of the old branches to get fruit on every branch in the next growing season.
May is a critical month in the lifecycle of the vines in Provence. In April, the buds break and swell to show the first leaves and future branches. Then follows the critical process of ‘ebourgeonnage’ or de-budding; the viticulturalist and their team select the branches that will help produce the best quality grapes.
Another pruning occurs during veraison (fruit ripening period) in the summer. At this time, the grape bunches are thinned out so that all of the remaining fruit is well-nourished (and does not exhaust the vine), and so they won’t be too crowded together, allowing air to move freely around them and keep them healthy.