Close to the ancient village of Suvereto, on the hills of the Val di Cornia in west Tuscany in vineyards planted to Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon varieties, delegates of Delicata’s viticultural team met up with the world masters of grape vine pruning.
Winemaker and head of viticulture, Matthew Delicata accompanied the winery’s viticulturist Jonathan Falzon and vineyard hand John Grima on their visit to the Italian School of Vine Pruning where they attended a specialist training class in winter vine pruning.
The well-known Italian school delivers theoretical programmes and has a teaching corps of about 20 experienced pruning technicians.
Its founders are long-time viticulturists Marco Simonit and Pierpaolo Sirch. Both experts have been helping some of the most prestigious Bordeaux wineries renowned for their first growths and legendary Sauternes, other high-profile French maisons including prized Champagne producers, besides top estates in Italy and the rest of the world to refine their viticultural skills.
The duo has gained a reputation in wine circles for having elevated the mundane task of snipping dead vine wood to pruning magic. It doesn’t take long to be drawn into their world and if a glance at their smart and sleek website or the coffee table books they have authored on the subject isn’t enough, their erudition is convincing.
In fact, their new teachings have reimagined vine pruning for the socially aware 21st Century grape farmer. The school’s creed is to help vignerons, viticulturists and winemakers to rediscover pruning as a craftsmanship by focusing on the finer details.
As the Delicata delegates hunched over vine rows, snipping and cutting painstakingly precise by the masters’ directions, and their solitary winter shadows drew longer in the bleak Tuscan winter sun, they truly immersed themselves in the pruning philosophy according to the Simonit & Sirch method.
Upon his return, Malta’s award-winning winemaker Matthew Delicata commented: “We are persuaded that these clever pruning methods combined with our own wealth of insights and understanding of the particulars of our Maltese vineyards will result in an ideal way for taking care of our trellised vines in Malta and Gozo.”
Whilst the Maltese native Girgentina and Ġellewża vines are traditionally trained in the sprawling bush method, the two main pruning techniques used for Malta’s trellised vines are the Guyot (essentially cane-pruned) and Cordone Speronato (cordon trained and spur-pruned) systems.
The recently attended master class focused in detail on how to avoid possible plant injuries using either pruning system by respecting the flow of the natural sap, or the ‘blood’ of the vine, whilst making exact and straighter incisions which leave more protective wood on the branches.
Pruning for life and improving the structure of the plant for long-term high quality grape production (rather than old-fashioned, opportunistic wood-snipping action with only grape yield in mind) is the underlying principle and one which Delicata in turn wishes to share and implement locally.
Consequently and fully aware of the importance of winter vine pruning, the Delicata winery hence plans to organise workshops for local vignerons. The aim is to transfer the newly gained knowledge and skills to their contracted Maltese grape growers that tend the many boutique vineyards making up the Delicata domaine.
Apart from workshop sessions, team Delicata also offers bespoke viticultural consultancy as well as the services of a crew of trained hands to assist grape growers in their fields. The Delicata winery encourages other, non-contracted grape farmers to join Delicata’s fruitful viticultural programme ‘Vines for Wines’ which was started up as early as 1994.
This article by Georges Meekers appeared first in the Times of Malta, 27 January 2017.