Journey to Harvest – March
It’s a new year and the journey to harvest for vintage 2017 has begun. This will
be our 15th year writing about the annual journey we make from dormant vines to
wonderful wines here on Indian Springs Ranch. As I sit in my upstairs office looking
out at Hood Mountain, I marvel at how far our family has come together on this unique
patch of Sonoma Valley terroir, and I look forward with optimism to the beginning
of another journey for us, for the vines, and for the land that remembers it all.
Pruning math and bud management
Vine pruning is not an arbitrary activity in the vineyard. On the contrary, it is
one of the most important viticultural activities affecting the quality of fruit
that will be harvested in the fall. Pruning influences crop levels, maturity rates,
flavor intensity, sugar levels, and even color.
As I write, a team of young workers, most from Mexico, are busy pruning our soggy
vineyard. Many of the men have been with us for years; their intimate knowledge
of our vineyard is a critical element in our family’s quest to perfect our wine
Today’s bare canes that were full of foliage last summer, are full of new buds,
each bud holding the secret to this year’s harvest. Each bud cautions me, “Patron,
listen up … if you don’t prune me I will deliver another bunch of grapes for this
year’s harvest.” If not pruned, the potentially hundreds of buds would try to produce
a crop so large it could never ripen. So while each bud’s plea to mature touches
me deeply, it’s time to get down to the serious business of bud management and
If the pruner leaves too many buds, it will result in too many grapes for the vine
to ripen to perfect maturity at the same time, which can cause no small amount of
havoc at harvest time, and significantly impact grape quality. Too few buds and
the vine will spend its extra energy growing excess foliage, potentially giving
the grapes undesirable vegetative flavors and aromas. So how do we hit this magical
goal of getting every grape on the ranch to become ripe and ready for harvest at
the same time? How do we learn the exact right number of buds to leave?
As with most things agricultural, the many years of experience with our vines and
soil types have taught us that the typical vine on our ranch will happily mature
about 25 pounds of fruit. We’ve weighed the bunches at harvest over many years,
and our Sauvignon Blanc bunches typically weigh about .3 pounds, the Zinfandel.6 pounds,
and the Merlot tips the scale at about .45 pounds per bunch. Knowing
the typical bunch weight of the variety enables the pruner to compute how many buds
to leave on a typical vine, with no more than two buds per cane.
Simple, right? Well…maybe if there was such a thing as a “typical” vine. But that’s
just not the real world. Some vines are weaker, some more vigorous. Variations in
the terroir across the vineyard impact individual vines.
The secret to good pruning (hence good grape quality, hence great tasting wine)
is to have each vine and its crop load in balance, so that the entire crop will
mature evenly and be ready for harvest at the same time. A little math gives the
pruner a great starting point from which to apply his or her experience and judgment
to leave just the right number of buds.
There are other factors to consider as well. The ongoing trend of reduced labor
availability and increasing cost of labor is forcing us to take a hard look at the
pruning structure of our vines. By converting to bilateral pruning (two base branches
per vine) from quadrilateral (four base branches per vine), we expect to realize
dual benefits – strengthening older vines, and making it easier for our expert
team to prune each vine.
Now you can see why we value so highly our wonderful team of pruners. Their knowledge of the craft and familiarity with our particular ranch is an absolutely essential component of our never-ending quest for ultimate grape quality.
The MacLeod Family