I’m out in a driving rain, taking cuttings. I pull up the hood on my rain jacket moments before gusts of rain smack the back of my head. The leaves of the Marris are clapping, and there’s a sparkle in the air. A new hawk is cruising the vineyard. As the rain abates I see her, a slender Nankeen Kestrel, Falco cenchroides, backpedalling over the Malbec, hunting for mice.
My back is raw from my efforts and my wrist is carpel tunneling from repetitively squeezing my secateurs. I’m clad from head to toe in protection – tall rubber boots, rain pants, rain jacket, glasses and gloves. Despite the gloves, my hands are torn up and calloused. I’m tying the cuttings in bundles of 50 and find it hard to tie a knot with my gloved hands, so I remove them. The cool wood feels terrific against my bare skin and what's more I feel I can distinguish the strength and particular lifeforce of each individual cutting. They certainly do feel different from one another, apart from the smoothness of the wood. Some have terrific vigor and carry a profound strength. Others are twisted and their vivacity is less clear. Some simply possess a deep calm energy. Others have an energy that’s a bit out of control.
I actually discard a few of my earlier choices based on what I am feeling. The weak ones are out, as are the weedy ones. I feel that the overly vigorous ones will be more herbaceous in growth rather than fruit bearing. They have long stretches between nodes and a slight unevenness to them that I decide to reject. I’m acting on intuition, trusting my instincts, as I have no precedent for this.
I continue my experiment of sticking this material directly into the ground that was prepared last year. I’m replacing cuttings that didn’t take - most likely because they were planted so late in the season. I pack the soil around each plant so that there are no air pockets, and pull the odd weeds that have come in through the mulch – a type of onion, bunches of ryegrass, a radish, some bracken fern. This particular block is somewhat shielded by trees: parts of it will not receive early morning sun whereas parts will miss sun in the late afternoon. It will be interesting to see how and if that affects ripening and flavor.
Elsewhere we are “layering in” missing vines rather than starting them fresh from cuttings. This is a way of propagating a new vine from an established “mother” vine. Layered vines grow more quickly than cuttings because they receive nutrients from the mother vine. The aim is to get the new vine to create its own roots while it is still attached to the original plant. We pick a long vigorous cane from one vine and dig a hole where we want to establish the offshoot. We loop it in the hole and bury it with the tip up, leaving several buds above ground. We train it the same way we’d train a newly planted one. The cane will root itself and eventually we will sever the connection to the mother vine.
The layered look: