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Wine Growers Have a Pruning Problem—Here’s How Some Are Trying to Fix It


In 2019, Netanya Welch looked out at the neat rows of Pinot Noir spread across a steep slope on Eola Hill in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. She was stunned to find dead wood snaking down the trunks. The 20-year-old vines on Stone Creek Vineyard, one of the flagship plots of Rose & Arrow Estate Vineyards, were slowly succumbing to trunk disease.

Welch, Rose & Arrow’s then-newly hired director of viticulture, was determined to save them. “Yields had been going down and the vines had been mistreated,” she says. “We didn’t want to start replanting—we wanted them to recuperate.”

Welch was dismayed to see that previous vineyard teams had made large return cuts—large slashes to remove old branches and push vines back under the fruiting wire—on old wood. She believes that these large pruning cuts aren’t good for vines.

In the 1960s and 70s, as tractors became more popular in the wine industry, growers started to concentrate on pruning vines so that they could be arranged into easier-to manage rows. To contain these climbers, vineyard workers will often make large return cut. But 15 years later—when vines should be reaching their peak—grape yields…

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