Shoot thinning is as important as pruning, so why not make it ‘gentle’?

Having just experienced the coldest April and slowest bud break since 1922 (according to Met Office), our vines are now finally rocketing away with many sites showing healthy shoot growth with at least 2 inflorescences each. Due to the late start, consideration should be given to the remaining sunny days and how best to maximise shoot growth and ripening in a shorter growing season. Now is the time for bud rubbing, crown clearing and shoot selection across all mature vines (if it hasn’t been done already!). With labour in high demand, and time of the essence, it is of the utmost importance that field workers are given clear and concise instructions that are backed up with quality in-field traini

ng and supervision. Whilst there is no recipe for vineyard management, I like to simplify the theories into practical and workable solutions.

Over the years, I have taken a lot of inspiration from the likes of Marco Simonit (Simonit & Sirch) and have been using their ‘gentle pruning’ techniques as part of my standard approach. Upon reflection, I recently rea

lised that my father

was unknowingly following gentle pruning principles in his vineyard in Wellington, South Africa, since before I was born. Although we did spur pruning in Wellington, the principles are the same and the blocks that were planted in the mid 80’s, are still thriving to this day.

Respecting the sap flow starts with proper pruning but is heavily reliant on the options retained at bud rubbing,

crown clearing and shoot selection (collectively known as shoot thinning).  A summer wound heals far quicker than in the colder winter temperatures with active sap flow filling the void and creating a seal within a few hours, rather than days. The benefits of meticulous shoot thinning include faster pruning, less winter wounds, focused energy into desirable summer shoots, better airflow, better light interception, lower disease pressure and more even shoot growth and ripening.

The principles should be applied to vines of all ages, starting with newly planted vines at the first shoot selection stage.


Newly plantedvines:

In the first season, it is common practice to thin the green shoots, retaining 1 shoot per vine. This focuses the energy and promotes stronger shoot growth from healthier buds in the second year.  Unfortunately, it is also common practice when thinning to simply choose 1 shoot with little consideration as to which one! As stated in an earlier Gentle Pruning Article, every winter wound has associated desiccated cones which restrict the sap flow. Considering the fact that the vine’s trunk will stem from a bud on that shoot, it is essential to ensure a shoot with uninterrupted sap flow is chosen. In the example pictured, shoot ‘A’ has no restriction in sap flow leading up to it because there are no wounds in the path from roots to shoots. This is the first choice, and all other growth should be removed.

If you’d like to hear how these principles can be implemented in your vineyard this summer, feel free to get in touch with us.