ROC AND THE PRUNING ACADEMY

Today’s conversation is between Sara Pérez and Roc Gramona. Roc is the son of a company devoted the world of vine growing and wines in the region of Penedès for 100 years now. Oenologist and passionate about vines, he defines himself as “an oenologist who occasionally prunes”

Managing the Acadèmia de Poda (“Pruning Academy”), he works, along with other professionals from the sector, training and teaching the respectful pruning methodology since 2014, a methodology which is sensitive and respects the vine. Pruning is a profession which has disappeared because of the progressive mechanisation of our crops.

Now, the Academy is offering an advanced course called Curs Superior en Poda de Respecte: protecció i longevitat de la vinya (“Respectful Pruning: protection and longevity of the vine”) under the umbrella of the URV Foundation. A curious relationship between an organisation with an innovative spirit and a very academic institution, such as a university. The history goes back to the beginning of the Academy. Gramona worked for the company Simonit & Sirch from 2010 until 2012, and then is when he had his first direct contact with this methodology, which is not innovative, but it is a recovered methodology. His father, as a director of the INNOVI cluster, realised that there wasn’t any school or any possibility of receiving a training in pruning, a situation which was completely different in other countries such as France or Italy. Hence the idea of creating a pruning school. The relationship with the University came naturally, because it is where his father worked as a teacher, and it also where Roc studied oenology, an institution that “they love with all its strengths and weaknesses”, he tells us. A necessary knowledge update, because it spreads a vision which differs from the more traditional methodology which had been passed on until now. Respectful pruning is a methodology with the longevity and the balance of the plant as an essential feature, and by balance we mean health, not only focused on the production or the relationship alcohol content/acidity/pH. A holistic approach to the most important work in a vineyard.

To avoid trivialising concepts (which happened with sustainability, for example), and in order to standardise criteria, we want him to tell us where this respectful pruning term comes from, with which attitude, which expectations, and also which is its history. Then, he tells us a bit about its history so that we can understand it more, specially understand why it is known as the Italian pruning when, in fact, the Italian people didn’t invent it. However, the recognition work of the methodology was indeed born in Italy.

In a period when the average age of our vines is getting reduced because of mechanisation, as well as in other areas, it has made us change our way of understanding vine growing. Around the 70s/80s, we started to transform the estates, and we changed the goblet pruning for the training system. Goblet pruning enables the plant to grow and produce shoots, it is a very important concept. On the other hand, the training system uses wire, which limits the vine, putting barriers and stopping it. A wire which drastically changes the natural behaviour of the vine.

And little by little, we changed the way we pruned the goblet. A goblet, which we had always pruned perfectly well, we began reducing it and wounding it excessively… And 40 years later we realised that the plants get dry, they aren’t healthy plants.

And the first to realise it were the Italians (Simonit & Sirch). They detected this problem before anyone else. They collected information, they observed, and they shared their knowledge. They found the way to teach this “common heritage” (as Roc rightly calls it) in a simple an effective way to the field work teams of the wineries.

Respectful pruning is still a forgotten pruning, a pruning method which we had already used in our region for many years, and which guaranteed long-lasting plants. Some examples are the cordón trenzado (“plaited cordon”) training or the goblet in our region, the Chablis pruning from France, and the one from Jerez (vara y pulgar, similar to the French Guyot), which is much more complex.

And traditional pruning versus respectful pruning? We ask him. For him, traditional pruning is the pruning that we started to use in the 80s, when our mentality changed the training system, and it replaced our way of pruning for a more mechanised, machinable one. “I think that, when most people refer to traditional pruning, they refer to this, and it isn’t a suitable name, because, for me, real traditional pruning should be the same old pruning method as always, goblet pruning…” the forgotten pruning methods. This old pruning method is the one we should call traditional pruning, but we have misunderstood the name.

“Maybe, the hardest part is realising that we don’t know how to prune. We need to accept it and reconnect in order to let the intuition flow by accompanying the plant and its growth process, by understanding it, observing it” says Sara, who is also following the progress of the Academy.

It is a way of simplifying the pruning process to explain it to the temporary workers and make the production work easier. However, to reach this simplification, it is necessary to observe the vine, interpret its vigour, its shoots, its internodes, and then determine whether a longer or a shorter pruning is needed, the varietal, the final product that we want to get… all this while considering the 4 main points of this pruning method:

Let the plant ramify, let the plant grow. This is the first concept, the simplest and the most necessary one, and it is the most innovative too, because it reverts the tendency of these past years of reducing the plant. If we follow this concept, the wounds caused by pruning are smaller, and consequently, the healing capacity of the plant is higher.

Track the sap flow, although it can be more or less tracked depending on the vine training system. Goblet training, as it provides more movement, it enables you to track better the shoots growth, and choose better where the sap flows.

And the last points, respectful wood and pruning cuts at the crown, two criteria which can be summarised in one, cutting 1 or 2 years old wood, and with respect, because otherwise the plant can’t heal.

“As everything, it is a knowledge which we need to consolidate and think about why we do it, about the needs of each estate (…) In other words, it is like in the case of natural wines: the fact of not adding sulphur dioxide doesn’t mean that the wine is a natural wine. (…) it goes much further than this”

In conclusion, respectful pruning is a pruning methodology which isn’t as old in terms of time, and which has enabled vines which are over 100 years old last until now. It is a pruning method to recover and continue seeing the old vines in our vineyards.

Thank you, Roc, for your time, your honesty, and for having told us about it in such a clear way.

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