Although it’s the middle of Spring, it feels like Summer to me - my Autumn trip through the US has de-acclimatized me. I’ve donned shorts and hat to work out in the vines, and the heat is pressing in on me. It is radiating off the vines causing everything to shimmer with a living curtain of green and yellow.
I am “suckering” or “shoot thinning” – removing unproductive shoots that are not bearing fruit, as well as closely-spaced shoots that are preventing air and light from reaching the vine. At this point in the vine’s lifecycle, dormant buds along the trunk and cordon have “pushed” and are growing vigorously. Their vegetative growth diverts the energy of the vine away from ripening the fruit, so by shoot thinning I am refocusing the vine’s energy back into the grape clusters.
Shaded leaves are less than one tenth as effective as exposed ones. So by removing unnecessary shoots, I am allowing greater light to reach the leaves, thereby increasing their efficacy. Removal of these excess shoots allows filtered light to penetrate deep into the clusters, which further helps the grapes to develop flavor. It also allows for airflow amongst the clusters, which reduces mildew pressure.
I am also removing water shoots, which grow from the wood of the stem as well as infertile shoots that lack visible inflorescences. And when two or more shoots grow from one bud, I retain the strongest, or the one that has a grape cluster. At this early stage it is possible to rub the shoots off, or to pull them off without causing any damage. Later in the season, this work will require a sharp blade.
When shoot thinning, it is imperative to avoid removing those buds needed for next year’s growth. Thus each decision requires careful attention and an understanding of what is actually growing. As with everything in the vineyard, each action has a consequence, intended or otherwise, well into the future. You can probably understand why I’m drawn to the philosophy that “less is more”.