Friday, February 26, 2010

How to Prune a Grapevine, 102

I met a couple guys the other day who work for Cantina Sociale Cooperativa di San Marco. The day was warm for a change and the air felt new. It reminded me of helping my father clear areas of the woods around the house growing up. In the spring, we’d take a few tools and chop at the wilderness that was constantly threatening to swallow up our house in the Maine woods. It was one of my favorite activities in the world. I got to help out, manicure the forest so that there’d be more room for summertime activities, breathe the springtime air, and sometimes get paid a few bucks. Plus, once I was finished I could clearly perceive the work I had accomplished.

I get the feeling that the men I spoke with had similar feelings. They were jolly, smoking cigarettes with their shirt-sleeves rolled up, long rows of pruned vines in their wake. They predicted that the patch of Negroamaro, Aleatico, and Malvasia Nera vines they were working on would be finished in two or three days. The area looked like one-millionth of the whole.

How many years have they completed this work? Does it make sense to them the same way that growing tomatoes makes sense in every home garden? Cooperativa wineries rarely sell their wines abroad, supplying their particular townships instead. The men were enacting one step of a multistep process that would eventually result in putting wine on their friend’s dinner tables.

The bossman arrived a few minutes into our conversation and the men set to work a little more diligently. More or less everyone was just breathing the air, and the grape vines were renewing their diligence as well, preparing to grow another few feet and burst into a flourish of grapes before being cut back again.

How to Prune a Grapevine, 101

The last two winters in Puglia have been strangely warm and rainy. As far as terroir and weather go in Puglia, the winter is similar to some areas of California: a single snow per season, temperatures hardly ever get down to freezing, and some rain. Unlike California, Puglia does not get as cold at night as areas like Sonoma and Napa do.

When it’s not raining, I like to hit the countryside on my bicycle and I’ve gotten to witness wintertime vineyard maintence. Likewise, the guys whose job it is to prune Puglia’s endless rows of grapevines like to get down to their perpetual task. Here are some of my observations. (Below, vines yet-to-be pruned on the left; pruned vines on the right)

After the grape harvest, grape vines in Puglia are left haggard. Bunches of forgettable grapes are left hanging. As autumn deepens, the leaves fall off and only clusters of raisins remain clinging to the bare vines. This is cool however, because it shows anyone whose interested the anatomy of a grapevine. Every year a grape vine grows several feet only to be pruned back to one or two inches. This is why old vines are so powerful and respectable.

The alberello (little trees) growing style is a result of extreme pruning. In order for the vines to become free-standing trees they are closely pruned for years in order to develop a thick, sturdy trunk.

As soon as enologists and their crews recover from the celebrating that follows the grape harvest, they return to the fields to prune. Puglia, being one of the highest-yielding grape-producing regions in the country that yields the most grapes in the world, has thousands of acres of grapevines. It probably has millions of grape vines and billions of grapes. Can you spot the worker below?

To be continued…

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