The days are crisp and clear, with startling blue skies and beautiful sunsets. We have been working the soil around the vines so that any and all winter rains will be fully absorbed by the land. These water reserves may prove useful later in the 2012 growing season.
Winter pruning started this week, a “potatura soffice” meticulously performed by hand. Soffice in Italian means soft; it is an adjective most often used to describe sponge cakes, clouds and kitten fur.
After his weekly visit to the vineyards, our agronomer Massimo Achilli, instructed us how best to cut back the straggly offshoots this year, cutting only last year’s growth and allowing the vine to develop. “Soft pruning” is a revival of traditional pruning methods which is gaining momentum in Italy. Once upon a time, when vineyards were all small and tended by hand by the farmers themselves, the potino was fully attuned to the vine’s health and was committed and concerned about the effect of every operation performed in the vineyard. Nowadays with the use of machines and/or itinerant workforces who lack preparation and a long-term connection with the vines, this art has been lost and the Italian vineyards have suffered generally as a result.
When the potatura soffice is used correctly it is proven to significantly increase the vine’s life-span and can cut annual pruning costs by half. Most importantly the longer the vine lives, the better the grapes are…
The champions of this tecnique are two specialists from Friuli; Marco Simonit and Pierpaolo Sirch. Over the last two decades they have perfected and patented their method, see here. They are responsible for creating the world’s first Pruning School to recover and teach a dying art. They consult directly for forty or so prestigious Italian estates; Angelo Gaja and Spinetta in Piemonte; Bellavista in Franciacorta; Hofstatter and Tenuta Manincor in Alto Adige, Feudi di San Gregorio in Campania; Planeta and Tasca d’ Almerita in Sicily. The school has courses during the winter in most of Italy’s wine-growing areas and I have just signed us up for the 2012 course… evviva!