Who would have thought that there were so many ways to skin a cat, or, in our case, to cut a vine! This past weekend, we spent the weekend at the farm with our friend Margaret.
We had grandiose plans of quickly learning how to prune whereafter we would attack the vines with vigour and leave barely a few vines for the contract pruners to come in and finish off, saving us thousands in costs. We started the day – Saturday – with a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs and strong brewed coffee, before heading for the vines with our tutor, Trevor.

I think Trevor misjudged our quota of assumed knowledge because he immediately launched into what I considered rather advanced terminology of viticulture such as “canes”, “buds”, “cordons” and many more that simply got lost in the confusion of trying to count buds and determine cordons and cut canes.

Once Trevor had given us a few demonstrations and explained the finer details of a new Italian style of pruning and explained how we were going to re-grow the vines from the base up and how we were going to ensure the survival of our vineyard for years to come, he left us to our own devices and our own understanding of the lesson that he had given us.

Lizzie got her little stool and her water bottle and her hat and her sunnies (and sunscreen) and was set for the day. She started pruning in that meticulous, “spreadsheet” way that only Lizzie can approach a challenge. Assiduously, she counted the buds, cut the canes and moved on. Vine after vine she removed the wood from the previous year’s growth and tidied the mess that was created from the desire of nature to not do what we want her to do. This is where an understanding of the way a vine grows and the desired outcome we want of that vine would have come in really handy. Without going into too much detail about the finer points of pruning (which I may discuss in far more detail in a later blog post when I actually have a successful crop to my name) Lizzie had a small issue with deciding which of the canes with the buds to keep and which to send on a one way trip to the mulcher. It becomes quite evident during pruning that YOU have to be the decider of who stays and who goes. You have to choose who you think will bear the best fruit in the coming season and everyone else gets cut down in furious anger and great vengeance……….. I digress. All it took was an understanding of the law of nature for Liz to get the gist that in order for the strong to prosper, the weak must fall. There is a lesson here somewhere.

Now, all this makes it sound like Liz was the only one doing an “average” job of pruning, but I too had my shortcomings. Whereas I already knew the survival of the “fattest” concept when it came to vines, my downfall was a simple issue of counting. You would think if the instructions were, ” leave the basal bud and 2 more buds and then cut the cane under the third bud”, that would be an easy instruction to follow…. Maybe not. It took me almost half the row before I realised I had been counting 3 buds instead of 2 and had to go back and cut them all again.

Needless to say, by the end of the day, we had each pruned 1 row, a far cry from the 86 odd rows of vines that will be pruned this week.

Our tutor Trever was not so forgiving, he upped the quota of vines that we NEED to prune ourselves from 6 to 8.

But I think once you get used to it, and while listening to a podcast or a nice piece of music, pruning can be quite cathartic. You lose yourself in the moment and you form a friendship with the living organism that is going to bring you fruit, wine and life, and if you don’t become friends with this tree, if you don’t look after it and coax the best production from it and the best fruit from it, it will not support you and give you what you need to make this venture a success.

While I was pruning, I was wondering if I would get to know each vine, if I would notice over the years if one changed or if one was sick or if one grew a new shoot. Maybe I am reading too much into this. Maybe not.

As we finished our rows of vines, there was an unspoken acknowledgement that perhaps this was harder than we had expected. Margaret helped us “Attack” the row of Muskat grapes because she didn’t feel that they were as “important” as the Shiraz, and we really appreciated her help.

That day was a learning curve in many ways. We learned a little about how to prune vines, we learned a little about our own shortcomings and strengths and we also learned that if you want to eat an elephant, you have to eat it one bite at a time or bring the whole village, so, next season, if anyone wants to learn how to prune, give us a call, it is a skill that will stand you in good stead for the rest of your days.