The monumental task of pruning the vines, come rain, storm, wind or shine, is coming to an end in the vineyards of Bordeaux. Whatever the appellation (and Bordeaux now has 60), the 117,000 hectares of vineyards have just about finished being pruned.Neat vine with one arm and eight potential buds AFTER Pruning
The vine, BEFORE pruning (and view of St Emilion in distance)
Each vine needs cutting back leaving one branch with around eight potential buds, which in the Spring bud and later turn into bunches of grapes. The vine produces a tangle of branches which, without pruning, would produce a proliferation of vegetation and a few measly grape bunches. Pruning enables the vine to concentrate its efforts into producing grapes rather than vegetation.
Most of the cutting is done with electric secateurs by trained pruners. They leave the cut straggly branches in the vine for another person to pull out and lie in between the vines. These ‘sarment’ are then collected and put into bundles. These bundles are stored and used throughout the year to cook ‘entrecôte’ (Bordeaux’s famous steak) or ‘magret de canard’ (duck breast). Excess vine cuttings are cut up and ploughed into the soil.
Pruning is done in the cold months of the year when the vine’s sap has descended down into its roots (between November and March). As soon as the temperatures become warmer, the sap rises and the vines ‘weep’when cut. So the rush is on to finish!
It is one of the several manual tasks in the vineyard which makes vinegrowing very labour intensive and expensive to produce grapes. It is the same cost even if you produce a cheap Bordeaux or the most expensive Pomerol! Around 600€ per hectare. There are no short-cuts.