To Prune or Not to Prune? It’s a Matter of Timing

Winter is upon us in Nelson. All of a sudden, it seems there are more leaves on the ground than on the trees. Gardeners are reaching for their pruning knives. But wait … hold everything! Tidying up sometimes needs to be timed carefully, especially when it comes to the vineyard.

Grape vines look particularly scruffy at this time of the year. The remaining leaves are turning from golden to brown and everything seems to be crying out for a good prune. You might be wondering why the workers aren’t getting stuck in yet. The reason is important. The growers are waiting for a cue from nature — for the last few leaves to fall. 

In the colder weather, grape vines redirect their energy. No longer focused on growing leaves and fruit, the plants will send their sap below the ground to the roots. Although the vine may appear to be dormant, the roots continue to grow, taking up nutrients in the soil and strengthening the plant in preparation for spring. 

If growers prune too early, the canes will bud early, too, leaving them vulnerable to spring frosts. If you have a grape vine at your home, try to be patient. Always wait until the leaves have fallen — even if the mess does drive you crazy.

The success of next year’s harvest really begins now, with the decision to prune. Pruning is essential for controlling the vine size and form, promoting healthy, high-quality fruit. Many home gardeners don’t prune heavily enough and lose control of their vines.

The temptation for growers, of course, is to get cracking early on what is a very time-consuming job. This is especially true for the larger vineyards. Winter pruning is an arduous and physical task that must be done by hand. Ideally, pruning is best carried out in late winter or early spring but Viticulturalists need to ensure that the job is complete by the time the sap rises again in spring. 

There are just not enough trained workers to get all of our region’s grapes pruned at the optimum time. As is often the case in commercial horticulture, the grower must make a tricky decision taking account of weather, seasonal changes and labour. It’s a real balancing act to get it right. 

As in any garden, winter is also the ideal time to carry out general maintenance. Vineyard tasks include weed and pest management, replacing broken wires and posts, fixing equipment and maintaining irrigation systems. 

In the winery, winter is a busy time too. Our current vintage is being racked, barrelled, clarified, blended and filtered. But wines from previous vintages can demand our attention too, depending on the variety. Winter also gives us the opportunity to carry out some deep cleaning, as well as giving our winemakers a much-deserved break. 

Our close relationship with local winemakers is such an important part of our business. It was so great to see this highlighted in a recent article featuring our innovative approach to the wine business.

Winter is a time when nature rests, and perhaps we should all take her cue. Now is the perfect time to gather with friends to share conversation and a nice bottle of red wine. All the better if you add in a logfire, or some mulled wine. The aroma of gently simmering wine with cinnamon and cloves adds spice and atmosphere to any winter get-together. You can even mull your own wine to get the perfect level of sugar and spice. A slow cooker is a great way to create this seasonal treat — though a saucepan works perfectly well.

Kiwis usually choose cheaper Australian reds when making mulled wine. In this country, while we make some lovely Pinot Noir, our reds do tend to be a bit on the pricey side. From a Nelson perspective, it can be hard to find a local, cost-effective Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah. Our Regional Selection was created for just that reason. The Hawkes Bay Merlot/Cabernet is a lovely soft blend — the perfect choice if you are planning to make delicious mulled wine. Just a warning though, you might find that it disappears before you can reach for the cinnamon.

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