Today’s Wine Word: Canopy Management

The growing season has begun in earnest and now’s the time for vineyard managers in the northern hemisphere to focus on canopy management. 

Actually, there’s always canopy management to do, since winter pruning is also a form of it. 

Canopy = the green shoots that emerge from the dormant vines every spring. 

Winter pruning is done with the theory that for each bud, or growing point, that remains after pruning there will be one shoot. And for each shoot, an average of two grape clusters. But, as a good friend and wine consultant once said to me: “The vines don’t read the textbook!” So, it’s up to the vineyard manager to check out what’s actually happened and decide what, if anything, to do about it – canopy management.

By now, mid-April in Napa Valley, the grower/manager can see that some buds have pushed out two shoots instead of one. Isn’t that a good thing? 

Not for quality production or for mildew control. If the vine is a big, bushy mess, it gets in the way of ventilation and light exposure. And, increasing the number of shoots, therefore enlarging the crop, can dilute the flavor and perhaps invite green, vegetative character. 

So the thing to do this time of year is to walk the vineyard and thin out the excess shoots. Next month there may be more shoot thinning to do and perhaps some cluster thinning, too, assuming flowering is on schedule. 

And, strategic leaf removal, or “leaf pulling”, to promote light exposure is part of the picture, too, depending upon what kind of year it is. 

As with wine, it’s all about balance! Cheers! 

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