Vines to Wines: What’s happening in the winter vineyards

2013-02-14T17:08:00Z 2013-03-21T17:35:44Z Vines to Wines: What’s happening in the winter vineyardsRICHARDS P. LYON Napa Valley Register
February 14, 2013 5:08 pm  • 

Pruning the vines is the year’s first “turning point” in the valley. To the traveler passing by (slowly I hope) the workers appear to be doing just another day’s work. That is a massive understatement, for each worker must have mastered the art of making the right cut in the right manner. Pruning is Napa Valley’s master art. It makes picking look easy.

And when does one prune? Ideally, it is as late as possible, even into March, in the hope that the fragile buds will escape a late frost in May. A pruning date, from December on, is often determined by availability of competent workers.

Our pruned vines come in three forms easy to recognize. First, and by far oldest, is the head-trained vine. It’s origin is in antiquity, and it was brought here by the Mission fathers. It is still the chosen form to carry the heavy bunches of zinfandel. For this the vine stands by itself without stakes. As I drive by these vines, I am reminded of a military cemetery in France with its crosses, row on row.

The second oldest form of tailored vine in one cane pruned. The pruner removes last years branches — the canes — save for two that are chosen for their health, to be kept and stretched out on trellis wires, one on each side. Their buds limited to 10 or so, two to a spur. When you see the green ties colorfully defining the wired canes, you know this vineyard is “cane pruned.”

The third and most prominent vines are those that are pruned in cordon. In French “cordon” is a “cord” or “ribbon.” They are artistically appealing for everything seems to regular and symmetrical, and rows are so sharply defined. Here, a single muscular arm reaches permanently out on each side and last year’s canes are removed, leaving only the first two or three buds on a spur in place for the new growth. This is symmetry of growth is enhanced as trellis wires encompass and direct growth skyward. These vineyards are likely the most pleasing to the passing eye.

If you stop and listen, you will often hear the voices of workers moving and cutting in rhythm.

Email Dr. Lyon at

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