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Trimming the bush

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Some 5000-plus species of grape vine exist in the world, and about 200 have been used to make consumable wine. About 90 per cent of wines are made from about 10 per cent of these varieties.

Wine styles can vary from region to region, and what the wine maker decides to do with them.

Another permutation is how the plant itself is managed. In particular, canopy management. The leaf of the plant is the energy generator and protector of the vine and its care is a top priority.

The Vitus Vinifera plant (the botanical name for grape vines) can grow like a weed if left untrained. The thing will become a mass of twisted limbs (canes) with scant fruit as the plant focuses instead on growing leaves.

So, if we cleverly trim this plant and limit the number of canes, its focus becomes the production of fruit.

The more fruit, though, the less pronounced flavours can be, so bunch thinning might be required in some planting regions.

Another potential pitfall is that if too much canopy is left, particularly in wet climates, moisture accumulates and disease is rife.

In our clever human way, we have worked out what suits most regions with respect to pruning.

Technically speaking, there is spur pruning and cane pruning. Spur pruning limits new growth to two major canes each year, while the cane pruning allows for a longer arm of bunches to form, with canes typically being two-years-old when pruned.

Spur pruning is used for moderate to highly vigorous species like Cabernet, Merlot and Shiraz, while cane pruning is often used in cool climates and, in particular, for Pinot Noir.

The concept of wild growth without trellising is called Goblet style or “Bush Vine Growth.”

In this method, the plant is trimmed to resemble a shrub. This can suit hot, dry climates with poor soil. The canopy protects the plant from too much sun, but it is not moist enough to encourage moulds. Often the fruit is very concentrated, and some great Barossa Shiraz and Grenache have been grown like this.

There can be other variations such as single trellising and double trellising and so on.

It’s all about air movement and sun exposure. Google is good for images of these techniques.

The wine industry is adept at recycling, and one of the great uses for canes pruned from the vine is to burn them to smoke meat, especially duck. The resulting flavour is less pungent and more elegant that other wood smokes.

Alternatively, you can just burn them and have a big BBQ and drink last year’s vintage for good luck.

Drinking well

2011 Toolangi Paul’s Lane Yarra Valley Chardonnay – colour is deep straw with a green hue. The nose is exceptionally alluring, with initial classic white peach and some floral notes. The flinty, funky nose builds and has meaty nuances. The palate builds nicely with some restraint, escalates into stone fruit flavours, but is supported by good acidity. Toolangi make exceptional Chardonnay on all levels. I rate these guys up with Giaconda and other great producers. Will cellar seven years-plus, but enjoy with a three cheese baked soufflé.

2012 “Super Nanny Goat” Central Otago Pinot Noir – lovely deep ruby colour. The bouquet is a heady mix of plums, strawberries and blueberries with savoury mushroom and spicy notes. The palate is luscious but balanced by supple integrated tannins. A full gustatory experience in a glass. At sub $50, the best value Pinot Noir this year. I enjoyed this, ironically, with roasted goat in an array of herbs. 

2011 Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Merlot (NZ) – has traces of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. Intense purple colour. The nose is elegantly balanced, with layers of dark fruits, figs, olives, spice and dusty tannins. The voluptuous elegant palate is a delight to drink. Bordeaux style with barrel loads of love. Try with some venison. Cellar for 10-plus years.