My two favourite seasons in the vineyards are pruning, and budburst. There’s something special about a row of neatly pruned vines… a bit like neatly pruned roses in a rose garden. Order is restored!
Vines (like roses) get very straggly at the end of the growing season. The leaves die, which can be spectacular as they range through red, orange and yellow before they fall, and the canes are unwieldy and wild. Once they’re pruned, they remind of me a line of schoolchildren with lovely neat Number 5 hairdos… or perhaps you could make that a military image and think of rows of soldiers with buzz cuts. It’s a similar type of thing.
I have been lucky enough to live in wine regions all my life, in Margaret River, then the Adelaide Hills, and I’ve spent a lot of time in the Barossa in between. I picked grapes in Switzerland when I was 20, staying with a host family who were relatives of my landlady in London at the time. I worked for two weeks on the hills above Lausanne, looking out over Lake Geneva to the hills of France. It was absolutely scenic, and absolute hell on the butt, knees and back. Note to future self: Lily Malone will drink wines and eat grapes… she will not pick them! Life lesson learned!
My novella, The Goodbye Ride, brings my hero, Owen, and heroine, Olivia, together as they set out to prune Owen’s aunt’s vineyard over a holiday weekend.
Here’s an excerpt where Liv is giving Owen instruction on how to prune a grapevine.
She switched the Felcotronic on and moved to the start of the vine row. As she talked, she demonstrated. “These vines are about twenty years old, I’d reckon. So they’re still teenagers, but they’ve been around a while and some need taking down a peg or two. See?” She indicated a spot near the end post where there was a cluster of crossed canes.
“It’s a bit like pruning a rose bush. We want to clean everything out to let air circulate. Cut out any dead wood and make lots of room for the new buds to grow. Grapevines fruit on new wood.”
Owen’s boot nudged hers as he leaned around her to watch and the contact sent butterflies cartwheeling through her stomach.
“We want to pick the healthiest spurs and cut them back to two buds. Here,” Liv moved the electric pruners into place and touched the trigger. Shining blades sliced through the vine as if it were a stick of soft cheese. She moved to the next spur, squeezed: “And here.”
Canes swished to the ground.
“When do I get a go with that thing?” Owen asked.
“You don’t.” Liv moved down the row, snipping as she went. “If you come across knotty bits like this where there are no new spurs growing at all, you can cut that section back completely. That’s where those loppers come in to it.”
“Okay. It looks simple enough. I’ll give it a go.”
She pointed him to the row of vines behind her so that they would be working back to back. It was safer that way. He couldn’t accidentally chop her finger off, vest or no safety vest.