January 2018 – It’s middle of winter, yet there are vignerons and vigneronnes out roaming the frigid vineyards. Step by step, they pause at each vine to perform what is one of the most delicate tasks in the vineyard, one which will directly influence the next harvest – pruning.
The grapevine is a climbing plant which, much like a bonsai, must constantly be contained. A task of precision and of architecture, wherein every stroke of the pruning shears must land just so if the following year’s production and the vines’ longevity into another century are to be ensured.
This year, pruning at Château Palmer began on November 30th 2017. The final days of autumn brought heavy rains, making for especially arduous work. The most vigorous Merlot vines are always pruned first, as the grape variety is quite resistant to wood diseases. Then come the Merlot requiring special care, followed at last by the youngest vines. This prioritization pays dividends later, as it helps to harmonise the bud break periods of the vine shoots. The Cabernet Sauvignon vines, more sensitive by comparison, will only be pruned later, at the end of winter.
All the vines, however, are pruned according to the same double Guyot method, in which a vine trunk’s two arms are each left with one long, mature vine shoot called an aste or fruiting cane, and sometimes a cot de retour or renewal spur (a short shoot to be trained as a new fruiting cane in the following season). The method reduces the quantity of grapes on each vine while favouring their quality. An additional pruning method, the Poussard method, is also used to ensure sap flow continues unimpeded over time. When work is done, the vine shoots are collected and shredded for use in producing compost. In this way, the cuttings will nourish the same vines from which they came.
Pruning is a painstaking job, to which the vignerons and vigneronnes must dedicate themselves throughout the winter. But thanks to them, the creation of the next vintage has already begun.