Shoot Thinning in Ballard Canyon

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Spring was in full force when we walked through Larner Vineyard on an overcast April afternoon: green and yellow translucent leaves emerging from one to two foot long shoots on weathered cordons.

shoot thinning grape vines

As we get closer to the vines, we can see that the sandy soil underneath the vines is covered with cut shoots.

ballard canyon vineyard

“This body has been dead for less than twenty four hours” – we play forensics based on how wilted the cut leaves are.

“We have been doing some shoot thinning today,” Michael Larner explains the sight after he joins us in the vineyard. “It enables us to control the growth of the vines. Look at this one,” Michael picks one of the cut shoots with tiny grape clusters.

“It is smaller than those we left on the vine. Eventually, it will lag behind the others, so we may as well get rid of it now and direct the energy towards more viable ones.” It seems just too hard to tell them apart. I imagine a crew manicuring the shoots, judging the size of every single cluster. To avoid confusion, Michael draws the desired cluster size on workers’ hands. Anything smaller must go. “Like a real world cheat sheet,” Wil Fernandez laughs.

michael larner vineyard

Cutting the shoots also determines the exposure of the grapes to the sun. “We cut here, where the sun will shine on vines in the morning and on the other side, where it shines in the evening. We keep the foliage right above the vine, because it will protect the grapes from scorching midday sun.” For every varietal, the amount of desired sunlight varies. While Syrah likes a lot of light, manicured Grenache and Malvasia will look different.

Here is where canopy management becomes almost godly: Michael Larner can literally control and play with the sun.