Here is how to prune grapes to make the perfect wine

Winter vineyard
Winter vineyard

Colin Burbidge, of Lancashire Wine School, gives advice on pruning grapes.

Early January is traditionally a time for moderating our drinking habits, not least because we need to give our wallets a rest following the seasonal celebrations.

Just like other market consumables, wine is often available at special offer prices so keep a look out for some bargains to put by for later in the year.

The wine world otherwise is relatively quiet. In the northern hemisphere pruning in the vineyards will be mostly finished with a little bit of tidying up going on, although some vineyards leave pruning until this time of year.

Our friends at Amber Valley Wines in Derbyshire are holding a workshop on January 11 if you fancy learning how to prune a grape vine. Pruning is very important in the vineyard as, if done correctly, it will help to boost grape production and quality for the coming season.

There are many options available depending on climate, soil composition, grape variety, aspect (position of the vineyard) and other considerations. Over the years many systems have been developed and the pruning methods will work hand-in-glove with training methods.

The most common training methods will be familiar with the view of vines in a row clinging to and climbing taught wires supported by sturdy posts. These systems allow the viticulturist (grape farmer) to determine the growing grapes’ exposure to the sun.

In cooler climes exposure needs to be maximised to gain maximum ripeness. In very hot climes a degree of protection from the sun may be needed to prevent over-ripeness.

There are myriad decisions to be made when choosing your training system, one of the key decisions being whether to cane prune or spur prune.

In cane pruning the vine is cut right back to the trunk leaving just one or two canes that will be responsible for future growth. Picking the right canes takes some skill. The vine is cut back to hard wood for the winter, protecting it from harsh frost during winter.

In spur pruning we retain one or two long trained canes and cut the growths from these canes back to two or three buds. New growth will spring from these buds. Spur pruning is often preferred in warmer climates where frost is less of a risk to the exposed canes.

This is a tiny part of the work required to ensure our vines produce sufficient quantity and, more importantly, intensely flavoured quality grapes for our wine production.

A high yield of insipid watery grapes is not the desired outcome.

Other decision such as spacing between rows of vines force competition between closely spaced vines, limiting vigorous growth and increasing quality, or vice versa.

Very hot climes, such as Australia or central and southern Spain, commonly employ bush vine systems eliminating the need for expensive post-and-wire systems as the vines grow naturally from the trunk. This system provides a little protection from the sun which is desirable but machine harvesting is all but impossible.

Grape growing is becoming more common in the UK as keen gardeners enjoy the fruits of their labour.

I’ve yet to see rows of vines in an allotment but when I do I’ll let you know.