[By Richard Sheppard in Calistoga, California] Vince Tofanelli is one of the founding members of our wine group. His family’s vineyard is located in Calistoga, California and he farms and sells most of the grapes to local wineries but retains about 20% of the crop for his own label, Tofanelli Family Vineyard. The 40 acre farm is a field blend of primarily Zinfandel and Charbono. Today I was invited to learn how Vince prunes his vineyard.
I drive onto Vince’s property, parking beneath a row of trees.
I call Vince on his cell phone and answers, “Hey Richard!”
“Where are you?” I ask.
“See the orange tractor in the middle of the vineyard?”
“Walk toward it, then follow the sound of my chainsaw.”
Chainsaw? What would Vince be doing in his vineyard with a chainsaw? I walk along a dirt road dividing the vineyard in two sections until I reach the orange tractor. Mustard is in full bloom and with the help of the warm sun, the air smells sweet. Hearing the unmistakable revving sound, I turn to my left and see Vince crouching over a vine. With a quick downward motion, he lops off a cordon.
“What are you doing?”
Vince looks at me with a half grin and says, “I’m vine sculpting! Seriously though, this cordon was in the way of my tractor so I sawed it off. It’s necessary to make adjustments in the vineyard from time to time.”
“But with a chain saw?”
“Actually, some vines enter a new growth phase once they’re cut. These old, head-pruned Zin vines can get sleepy, even lazy, and cutting can wake them up to produce more fruit. The younger vines don’t seem to need it. So if I cut a young vine, like this one, it’s only because it’s blocking my tractor.”
“How do you decide where to prune?” I ask.
“After many years I’ve come up with a formula. I start pruning on February 15 and finish before March 15. After the middle of March, the buds are softening and will soon open regardless of pruning.
“Let me show you how this is done. This is a head pruned vine with cordons growing directly off the main trunk. The canes that grow off the cordons are pruned back very short, creating spurs. Later, buds will grow off of those spur ends. It’s important to only allow two buds to remain at each spur. Any extra buds are removed, a process called suckering.
“To balance the energy of the plant, it’s necessary to limit the amount of shoots the vine produces. Too many shoots take away from the vine’s ability to ripen its crop. But by limiting the amount of shoots, and subsequently the fruit, the workload has been lightened, and the vine’s canopy of leaves reduced for increased light and airflow. I get more complexity in the remaining grapes.”
While watching Vince prune, I’m impressed with the amount of thought and care that goes into the process. He must consider each individual vine’s unique growth pattern. Vince has so much of himself in this vineyard, no doubt he’s influenced every aspect of these vines’ growth.