Really I could write, “What a difference two days make,” but it has been more like two weeks since we resumed pruning. Weather, children, travel and training all made for delays. When Bogdan, Salome, and I arrived last Friday, the space looked very different from the wintry landscape of softly falling snow.
Our previous excursions had been cancelled by severe temperatures falling to a daytime of only -14 C°, single digits in Fahrenheit realms, painful on both vine and vinedresser. As temperatures lept, a week of childcare due to CoVid school-closings precluded any work. Salome and Bogdan then visited Moravia (the south-eastern Czech Republic) and Slovakia to practice a different pruning style called the Simonit and Sirch method. Bogdan hopes the technique, coupled with a different training style, will reinforce the health of his vines.
Conceptually, there was a broad difference between the temperatures of two weeks ago, and those that greeted us on a grey, misty Friday. One looks at numbers for the forecast, predictions of sun or rain, and one dresses accordingly. Some degrees above freezing seems to beg for less clothing. But practically speaking, there was little difference between winter’s depth and winter’s end; while I did wear enough clothes, I still worn the same leather shoes that had caused so much dolor last time, but with fewer socks. In essence, I was still cold.
Not that it dampened my spirits. My return even came with a little gift, a finger knife with which to cut the twine holding cane to vine and vine to stake. Happily betrothed to manual labor in foggy conditions, I followed Bogdan and Salome into the vines.
Bogdan explained the new approach. In order to encourage more vegetative growth and a greater trunk, we were going to switch styles of training, moving from the Mosel Arch training (Which I erroneously called Pendelbogen) to two different systems. For many of these 5-year-old vines, the first system for this year will be a bit like repeating a grade. According to the first system, if there is a healthy cane (the branches of last year’s growth) approximately 20cm from the ground, all other growth is to be eliminated and only this cane should be left with 6 or 7 buds. This cane will continue to lignify – that is, to become woody and rigid – while sprouting new canes that will bear this year’s crop. When we do this training again next year, we will cut back this year’s 6-7 bud cane and all its new growth to one 10-12-bud cane, and one 1-to-2-bud spur (a cane cut to one or two buds) below it, as close to 20cms above the ground as possible. I’m calling this a Half-Mosel Arch for the purposes of this blog. Twenty centimeters is the desired height for trunks in this vineyard. Right now, most of the trunks are 10 to 12 cm above the ground and – I would have to confirm with Bogdan on this – that the extra centimeters allow for a little bit more airflow, a little bit more trunk in which carbohydrate reserves can be stored and a little bit less distance we will have to bend. However, like all obsessions, one’s body is sacrificed so that the object of one’s passion itself might survive, and comfortably so. The fatigue of our backs is of the least import regarding vine height – if twisted and torn erector spinae and external oblique muscles would inevitably lead to a note of forest honey in the final wine, we’d keep the trunks short.
The vines in the second system probably feel pretty smug. THEY get to have one cane with 10-12 buds and one spur THIS year; THEY get that cane bent into an arch; it’s like they’re going Vineyard High-School and producing killer’ fruit, dude!
… They will be held back next year.
Why? Because they haven’t learned how to grow new shoots in the right place. ” Chad Vinetrunk, we wanted approximately 20cm trunks, not 30 or 40cm. And because you can’t do your math, you will be held back. You can be an arch again in 2023.”
“Will I still produce rockin’ fruit?”
“Chad, you are a young vine; you don’t even truly know what ‘rockin’ fruit is. Some of your fruit might be more like smooth jazz for a while.”
Friday, I did my vines wrong. I was not rockin’ the pruning. Every vine I pruned like the second system. Thankful, if I had to make a mistake, this was the mistake to make; I can always go back and correct my work by pruning more off; I wouldn’t be able to glue the wood back on. It was one in a series of errors the whole day. My Czech clogged my tongue; I took wrong trams in the morning; I was supposed to meet Bogdan at one pub to buy take-out (CoVid protocol) but went to another instead. And, AND, I didn’t wear warm shoes. By the end of the day I was happy and busy but moving like a old sloth. My legs were so stiff.
Saturday started better. I remembered to bring these farm-fresh eggs to Bogdan. Ok, I remembered them when I was half-way up a hill, and missed my tram and was 5 minutes late but I got them, and carried their carton in the factors that changed my whole day- my snow boots.
No, there was no snow on the ground , but the temperature in the vineyard wasn’t so much above freezing and the lambswool inside these adultified moon-boots from Demar kept my feet toasty. They must have improved my efficiency by 20%, despite their gargantuan volume, just because my legs were warm, All my energy went to trimming and not towards survival. I was especially fast once Bogdan and I convoked on my error. I think he had explained it all the day before, but I had missed a couple phrases in Czech; my proficiency in this language is able to draw compliments from the natives the first time they meet me, and eye-rolls and sighs the next. We went over it again in English and Czech. The trimming grew even easier, I could have gone until sundown but responsibilities were carrying us back to Prague.
I can’t wait to get out again. Besides the fresh air, a first-row seat (kneel) at spring’s entrance is just the thing to renew the spirits of anybody worn down by winter and lockdowns. Insects and arachnids, even at these near freezing temperatures seem as anxious for the vines and sun as we are. Spiders crept and lept from trunks, a fly buzzed in the domeček of Bogdan and Salome. Insect eggs were sleeping on the vine trunks, for ill or gain I do not yet know. New green life has already started to push through the disintegrating leaves of 2020. And waiting out the cold with us, and enduring it much more was this little one:
Be well. The living is cold right now but we can still make some great good of it.