The vintage cycle begins in the winter with pruning. Every vine on the property (and there are more than 92,000) requires an individual assessment. In this brief “physical,” an experienced crew member determines which are the best shoots to keep and which should be cut away. Selecting the best fruiting cane may seem simple, but it will have significant impact on the year’s harvest we well as subsequent prunings. It’s an important and laborious task that’s usually done in the rain and cold by Vineyard Manager Mark Feltz, foreman Salomon Orozco, and a dedicated crew that has over 100 years of experience pruning grapevines.
Pruning, de-budding, shoot thinning, pulling leaves, and crop thinning, are all done by hand at Cristom. All of these practices are important, but pruning is the most vital. The quality of Pinot Noir and the longevity of our vineyards are both dependent on quality pruning decisions. In winter, the number of buds left on the fruiting cane after pruning determines the year’s crop level and the balance of the vine’s canopy. If too may buds are left on the fruiting cane, the crop level will be too large and the grapes will not reach optimum physiological or phenological ripeness. If pruning is done with too much zeal, the result is over-vigorous vines that want to grow rapidly rather than putting energy into fruit.
Once the vines have been pruned, the cuttings are placed in the middle of the rows to be tilled back into the soil later in the spring. Most of the vines on the Cristom estate are spaced forty inches apart in rows that are s five-feet eight inches apart (at a density of about 2,311 plants to the acre). The vines are trained in the single-Guyot method, with one fruiting cane per vine tied horizontally along the fruiting wire at about 28 inches above the ground.