The transition from winter into spring requires – in addition to mud boots and dense outerwear – a fair measure of faith.
We prune in March, when a wind-swept 40oF day in the vineyard chills bones faster than any other. This is especially so if standing in deep snow or thick, boot-sucking mud. Pruning this month is best for vine health, but it means we race against rising temperatures that awaken the vines, and we must be done before then. If only we could predict when it will occur.
Indeed, a check of last year’s diary shows that the two biggest snow storms of the year – 13 inches followed by 33 inches – were in March. So, winter is not really over, at least in these parts, until it’s done. Some years, that’s April.
Pruning is perhaps the greatest act of faith we undertake each year: the conditions are uncomfortable at best, and the ticking clock forces us to work when common sense suggests staying indoors. What compels this self-flagellation?
In a word, quality.
Pruning is the first step in the long march to fine wine, and it takes years to master. While a novice makes 25 or even 50 cuts on each vine, fearful of making a mistake and unnerved by 100 more looming down the row, a master sees only one vine, stares at it for a minute, and then makes 2 or 3 cuts so that everything falls away leaving a perfectly pruned grapevine, in all of its naked glory.
Making just a few cuts requires faith: in oneself, in the vines so entrusted, and in the new vintage that lies ahead.