Pruning in an
English Vineyard

Marcus Goodwin, Vineyard Manager at Westwell.

2020 Update

We’re deep in the midsts of pruning our 48,000 vines. Our new plantings from 2018 and 2019 also need to be pruned and trained although they are not yet productive. The early life of a vine is key to its future health and with an estimated life span of 50-100 years, we do all we can to give our plants a good start!

We’ll also be making some changes and additions this year to the soil to compensate for the unprecedented size of the harvest from 2017 and 2018. A huge crop inevitably takes its toll on the soil so we’ll be adding nutrients and compost to prepare and re-feed the ground and vines for the coming year.

To find out more about Pruning in an English Vineyard, continue reading Vineyard Manager Marcus' article from last year below.

Traditionally, pruning in England starts at the beginning of January. This gives the vine enough time after harvest to fully ripen the canes for the following year's crop. It also allows for the transfer of carbohydrates (starch and sugars) back down from the old canes into the trunk and root system which is key to the health of the vine. Pruning earlier than January can also encourage early bud burst. This delicate first growth is very vulnerable to frost damage so it's key that we time the pruning carefully to protect our vines.

At Westwell, we currently have just under 17,500 individual vines and we hand prune each one. For the experienced, it takes approximately 2 minutes to prune a vine. For us to prune our 13 acres, it generally takes 2 to 3 months or 600 hours. After 20 years working in vineyards, I have probably spent about 6,000 hours pruning!

A vine usually achieves full production when it is around 7 years old, and from that point on, the pruning technique is pretty much the same for the rest of it's life. Up until then, you have to carefully build up the vines' structure, balancing the top growth with the root growth.

Pruning can have a big effect on the next years' growth so it's really key that we get it right. An unpruned vine will:

  • Produce a larger, lower quality crop. Whatever its growth, a vine will still have the same resources from the root system.
  • Be damaged and weakened into the following year. It can take several vintages for a vine to fully recover from poor or insufficient pruning.
  • Produce over-vigourous growth, with large leaves which can shade fruit, prevent ripening, and even encourage disease such as mildew.
  • Grow erratically with uneven yields which are harder to harvest.

In terms of technique, there's much more to pruning than simply cutting down growth. There are many different pruning methods and which one you use largely depends on how you’ve decided to train the vine. They do fall into two different camps; one based on a spur system and the other based on replacement canes. At Westwell, we use a replacement cane system, choosing two of the previous years canes to provide the crop for the coming year and removing the rest.

If the vines are all trained on the same system, then regardless of variety, you tend to approach pruning them in the same way. There are differences in vigour between some varieties though so we give the stronger ones a bit more space.

We try not to make large cuts when pruning close to the trunk of the vine as recent evidence has shown that fungal disease can get into the vine and cause long term problems. If we do have to make large cuts, then we use a beneficial fungal wound sealant called Trichoderma that prevents other harmful fungi from getting in.

We've now finished pruning at Westwell for another year. It's hard work, and cold work, but a vital part of creating great wines.

Now onto our next job - planting several thousand new vines. More on that soon!

Photographer Ady Kerry joined us to capture the moment on film.

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