The modern wine industry should be able to evolve quickly and even regions and producers full of history and tradition have learned to adapt and innovate to respond to external pressures, be they climate, market or consumer driven.
As a wine commentator and educator, one of the best (and most challenging) things about working with wine is the need to keep myself up to date. So how could I refuse the opportunity to stand in an Austrian vineyard, in minus 9C temperatures, to learn how to gentle prune?
The nine winegrowers who make up the Austrian Pannobile association were brave enough to let 45 x Stage One MW students loose in their vineyards. My group went to Weingut Paul Achs, a biodynamic producer based in Gols. Viticulturist Ronny Rebscher gave each of us a pair of leather gloves and some secateurs and off we went.
Ronny was an excellent teacher. He explained the philosophy of gentle pruning ie. the practice of training the vine through small precise pruning cuts thereby avoiding big wounds which can lead to desiccated, dead wood within the trunk. Big wounds can expose the vine to the risk of fungus or disease and we saw Blaufrankish vines that bore the scars of the old way of pruning. But the new generation of viticulturists, with a focus on treating the vines with respect, has evolved a method of pruning that delivers excellent quality grapes and ensures the health of the vine.
There is something very final about cutting a cane; one snap of the blade and there is no going back. Fortunately no-one made a catastrophic pruning decision (though Ronny did say, “maybe I wouldn’t have cut exactly there”) to one of us. It was fun. I learned a great deal. Result.