With New Year barely a month ago, a persistent cold has taken hold in our Medoc vineyards of Château Belgrave, Grand Cru Classé 1855 Haut-Médoc, Château Reysson, Cru Bourgeois, Haut-Médoc and Château Le Boscq, Cru Bourgeois de Saint Estèphe. Under a glorious blue sky and amid icy temperatures, pruning is in full swing. We followed Julien, second in command at Chateau le Boscq, as he tackles a parcel of Merlot vines. He takes us through this “noble” task.
Pruning, an essential task in the vineyard
Pruning is one of the most important and skilled jobs in the vineyard. It signals the start of the vine growing cycle and the birth of a new vintage, and will last several months. In the Dourthe vineyards, pruning generally commences with the later-ripening Cabernets and Petit Verdot towards the end of November, after the first cold spell. It finishes with the more early-ripening, young vines in mid-March.
Julien, with his confident, agile cutting action, advances at a steady rhythm across a parcel of Merlot at Chateau le Boscq. While the secateurs shape each vine, his eye is already trained on the next in line, which he appraises in a matter of seconds. “It is important to assess the individual character of each vine and its growth-rate, and tailor the pruning accordingly, so that the vine is balanced and yields at an appropriate level. What we are doing now will also have an impact on the following year. We need to have a long term view.”
Pruning, high-tech intelligence
Shaping a young vine into a uniform format, while respecting the flow of the sap, balancing cropping levels and controlling yields – every single cut counts and will impact upon the next two harvests.
“At Château Belgrave, Reysson and Le Boscq we tend to use Double Guyot pruning, also known as Bordeaux pruning, which is traditionally favoured in the Grand Cru vineyards of Medoc. It is a very balanced method, which consists of leaving on either side of the vine a fruit cane of medium-length known as an aste, and a short cane known as a retour, cot or courson, depending on the region, which is the basis for next year’s shoots” explains Julien. “Removing some of the buds has to be carefully thought out as this not only helps regulate yields depending on the vigour of the vine, but also prevents the bunches being too tightly packed and promotes good airflow through the vine. It also influences the shape of the vine for years to come.”
Successful pruning depends largely on a number of key factors including an in-depth knowledge of each parcel, including its growth-rate and history, as well as a carefully considered approach and high levels of skill. At Château le Boscq and Château Belgrave, each grower is responsible for the same parcels, year on year, working on canopy management techniques by hand, lending their expertise to the quality-driven ethos that drives all our teams at Dourthe.