Grapevine Pruning 101-a lesson in vineyard management

Grapevine Pruning 101-a lesson in vineyard management

3 min read

What does pruning mean when it comes to wine grapes? Pruning is very important to grapevine management, as it can assist in controlling the health, growth and yields of the vine. The main type of pruning is called dormant pruning, usually done after the annual harvest.

Pruning refers to to the cutting and shaping of the cordon or “arms” of the grapevine in the winter which will determine the number of buds that are allowed to become grape clusters.

Dr. Neil Shay, owner of Bluebird Hill with his wife Sue, tells us “we prune because of the way grape vines grow and produce fruit. Growers mass prune annually. Fruit is only produced on shoots growing from one year old canes. Healthy new canes must be produced every year to maintain annual production of fruit. Training the vine is designed to encourage the production of new fruiting canes at specific positions on the vines, the arms and the cordons.”

I got to experience pruning recently at Bluebird Hill Cellars at the invitation of Neil and Sue Shay, the winery owners. It’s not easy work at all. In fact being a winery owner is not all glitz and glamour. It’s hard, back -breaking work, with many long hours during the entire year. Standing behind the tasting room bar may be  more of a vacation for these folks.

My day at Bluebird Hill started at 8:30 am with a steady drizzle. Neil showed me how and what to prune with the first few vines. His technique was using the bilateral vertical shoot positioning. The object is to get the crown of the vine to grow straight up and then pick one shoot to go in each direction along the wires. Usually a shoot that’s a year old is selected to continue the growth cycle. This way the shoots get stronger and the buds will provide more fruit in the coming year.

After many rows, we examined my work. I didn’t cut off too many good shoots. Only a few mistakes were made. I hope the vine gods aren’t too angry with me. I also found out that this is definitely a younger person’s job. My back and arms were quite sore afterwards.

A current list of common vine training systems might list as many as 29 different types. Some of the names are so unique : Mosel arch, Pendelbogen, Ruakura Twin Two Tier and VSP Trellis. Each training system is either Spur or Cane trained, originating in different eras and regions. Each type has its own distinct advantages and disadvantages.

It’s not just planting grapes. It’s a process that’s thousands of years old and science has really assisted in the higher yields.

The next time you’re at a winery ask the owner or winemaker what system they use for pruning, trellising and harvesting. You’ll have a much more interesting and informed experience at the winery or tasting room. Winemakers and owners are proud of their work and love to share it with their visitors. You will most certainly appreciate the value that goes into each and every bottle of wine.


By the way, my day ended with a beautiful rainbow that pointed to the pot of gold at each end. That pot of gold is the vineyard.