The irrigation system had been working perfectly over the last month, and now the new priority was pruning. Jerry had been working diligently though the process is slower than a turtle. Rightly he had been clearing the weeds as he proceeded vine by vine. However, with his concentration to detail and lack of experience, the removal of weeds made progress seem like it was at a standstill. Where I figured he might have gone through the entire vineyard by the time I returned, he was barely 1/4 of the way through. It was time to "bring out the guns", so Diane and I drove down (sorry, Diane took AirTrans, I drove) to help in the pruning.
Pruning is not overly complicated, though if you try to learn it from a book it can be quite perplexing relating the pictures to what actually occurs. Each vine has a temperment of its own, and decides to go in a different direction than what you expect, or its neighbor. A pruner must look at the vine, focus on the final intent of this year's pruning, and then get in there and start chopping no matter how painful it may be.
I call it painful because, as I had previously mentioned, we had let the vines go in year 1. Out of the grafted vine there may have been as many as 5 or 6 shoots that had grown. Many of these had made it easily up to the 3rd wire (54" off the ground) and had a fair amount of leaves to support its growth. But this isn't training a vine to go where it's needed, and unfortunately many of these shoots had to come off in Year 2 to allow the main trunk to grow and thicken.
As you touch each vine and follow the growth pattern, you make cut decisions that just have to be done. After awhile you start apologizing to the vine, maybe if you're tired and slap happy making noises of angst as you snip here, and then there. The pile on the ground can get disturbing, but it's "for the cause". And then you think about next year's strategy, and maybe some pruning should have been done in Year 1 to help alleviate the job required in Year 2.
Pruning is made simple once you can identify the parts of a vine, see what it did from the year before, and have a true understanding of the training process and that year's goal.
The basic parts of a grapevine are, from the ground: the trunk, arms or cordons, canes, canes beget buds, buds beget shoots, shoots beget nodes, and nodes beget tendons, leaves, or fruit. We can split hairs on this a bit, but for now remember that as each year progresses everything gets redefined one step closer to the ground. By that I mean shoots become canes and canes become arms as each year moves forward. Now you may think that with this trading down so to speak you will eventually have a vine that goes the length of a football field, and you wouldn't be far off if it isn't for the yearly pruning to keep the vine on track and trained properly.
Goals for each year vary some based on trellising methods, but for VSP (vertical shoot positioning) the idea in year one is to get the trunk to grow vertically up past the first wire with the real intent to to grow a widespread root system that will support future growth. Year Two, this year, we were trying to get one single vine well past the second wire (our wires are each 18" apart, so the 2nd wire is 36" off the ground). So of the many shoots that grew from last year, we needed to find the cane (last year's shoot is this year's cane) that was the strongest but also went in the general direction we were hoping for. All the others needed to be pruned off.
Next year's goal (Year 3) is to start developing the arms which will go out left and right off the main trunk. I won't go too in depth on next year, but consider that the cane we are taking care of this year will ultimately become an extension of the now trunk, and from this we must develop the arms.
If I haven't lost you yet, remember that Year 2 pruning is basically from the ground up to the first wire. All the work is in the first 18", and the only way I know of to do it is to get right down on the ground and stare at the vine. Up, and down, kneeling, and pruning. Tieing where appropriate to a bamboo stick adjacent to the trunk, sending the vine up to the first and maybe the 2nd wire where tendons can grab once grown. Do this 45 times, the approximate number of vines in each of our rows, and then do it over and over. I thought I was in shape before I started, but after a couple of rows I just couldn't do it the "normal" way. I was in such pain I had to literally crawl to the next vine to proceed. It was torture. And the following day was more of the same. Maybe the joints knew what was coming, but it was a weird combination of knowing they would be exercised to death again or just giving up to the need to move on regardless of the tightening or pain.
Jerry, certainly more agile than me and several inches shorter in height experienced the same thing. It never really got any better. As for Diane, she never complained (I must have been complaining for the 2 of us !). She was also assigned to the Nortons which, even after she pruned them still looked like bushes. They are a very aggressive American variety and would get a different training/trellising method than all the others.
When the week was over we still hadn't gotten over half done. Jerry was now an expert and continued in our absence. Couple this with his mowing duties, and our spray schedule, you can see how he knocked off a half row here, and a half row there. He also had to complete putting staples in to get the vines trained up to the 3rd set of wires. And then there was the weeds, oh those weeds; they will haunt me until we find a system to tackle them.