Grape vines are vigorous and prolific and can quickly get out of hand but training them is straight forward and getting the best out of the fruits is simple but it does take a little maintenance.
All over France you will see neat vineyards and immaculately trained vines, on a large scale this is usually done using specialist machinery but we can adapt the principles to pruning your vines on a domestic scale.
Grown against a wall, the usual method is similar to the ‘Geneva Double curtain’, this system consists of permanent main stems or ‘rods’ trained in the shape of a capital ‘T’. If you are planting a new vine, this is easy to achieve, simply pinching the top out when it reaches the height that you want it and then allowing two stems to grow from this, training them in horizontally as wide as you want them to go. This may take the first growing season to achieve. In the second year you will find that many new stems appear from all along the horizontal top of the ‘T’ (you may also get some up the vertical). Look carefully at these stems around early June and you will be able to see the tiny bunches of flowers which will become the grapes. If you want ‘dessert’ grapes for eating, you want to encourage them to grow as big as possible, so only allow one bunch per stem. Cut off the rest of the stem including any additional bunches of grapes one bud beyond the bunch that you are keeping, this may seem harsh
but it will channel all of the energy into one bunch, making them bigger and better quality and they will ripen better with more sunlight getting to them. If you are growing for wine then you can allow two bunches to form on each stem, the grapes will be smaller but with a more intense flavour. (see video below). The ‘Double Guyot’ System is more suitable for vines grown in rows in the field, look out for further information in a future post!
After harvesting in the late summer you can then cut back each stem to one bud, keeping the T shaped main rod in place. You will get regrowth the following year from each of the buds along these main stems. Grapes grow on ‘new wood’ i.e. the newly developing stems each year so you can keep them neatly trained in and if you need to renovate them you can cut them hard back and still get grapes in the current year. Major pruning should be done between harvesting and Christmas time because the vines will bleed heavily once the sap starts to rise in late winter.