“Uno, dos, vaminos!”
With a judge yelling "Let's go!" in Spanish, my friend Liz Brock and I clicked our stopwatches last week to time vineyard workers who quickly but carefully snipped away at the canes of grape vines. I’d known that pruning grape vines was exacting work requiring experience and expertise, and after volunteering in this year’s Sonoma County pruning competition, I discovered why. A good pruner not only has to clear a vine quickly, but also must trim it with a precision that insures the health of the plant.
Every year, Sonoma County agricultural organizations hold a pruning competition to celebrate the county’s talented vineyard workers. The top pruner receives cash and prizes as well as the badge of honor of being the best of the best. A regional competition is held in each of the five viticultural areas, and the top two pruners from each area go on to the championships, which will be held Friday at Shone Farm in Forestville.
I was fortunate to be able to participate and volunteer as a timekeeper for the Alexander Valley regional competition last week. There, I watched 30-40 competitors (this year, it was all men) analyze their vines as they waited for the go signal, take anywhere from three to seven minutes to quickly and carefully prune their section of vine, and raise their hands to signal that they were done.
Good pruning is an art form, and after seeing the score card judges used, I understood why: You can’t just snip off the cane at any old spot. Cuts can’t be too long, leaving excess wood, or too short, cutting off valuable buds. The angle of the cuts must not be too sharp and the cuts must be clean, without splitting the wood. All dead wood is cut away and waterspouts removed. Pruners are even judged on the debris. It can’t be left on the vines or hanging from the wires, and must be laid in neat bundles between the vine rows. Every cut must be reviewed, considered, committed to and then cleaned up – and at top speed. (To see a video of the pruning, click here.)
We were thrilled to discover that the Alexander Valley regional winner – Fernando Espita – was an employee of our vineyard manager, Ulises Valdez of Valdez & Sons Vineyard Management Inc. We’ll be cheering him on at Friday’s championship. You should, too!