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Soft pruning making a big impression - at last

08 Sep 2017
tagged with research
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Adrian Williams believes the arrival of soft pruning is the most important thing to happen to Australian viticulture since Richard Smart wrote Sunlight into Wine, his definitive guide to canopy management.

And there’s a nice symmetry to that, because it was an article Richard wrote back in 2014 that inspired the retired engineer turned full-time (and very passionate) grapegrower to learn more about a technique that until then had flown very much under the radar in Australia.

Three years later, soft pruning is being picked up by several of Australia’s leading vineyards, including on the Mornington Peninsula where Adrian grows his grapes, with full support from the Italian specialists who have perfected it.

‘It was rather a small article and if you were just skimming through Grapegrower and Winemaker you might have missed it, but it really grabbed my attention because I had been thinking about the long-term structure I wanted for my vines’, he said.

Adrian attended the 2014 International Conference on Grapevine Trunk Disease in Adelaide to learn more, then spent two weeks in Italy talking with the Italian company Simonit and Sirch and – perhaps more importantly – their clients.

‘The first of their vineyards that I walked into, I just stood there and said “wow”. The shoots were about 300mm long and across the vineyard every shoot was 300mm long. The uniformity was amazing and the comments I heard from their clients just blew me away. So, I committed to bring them to Australia.’

The interest was two-way, with Simonit and Sirch offering to send two people for two weeks for free if their out-of-pocket expenses were covered. Adrian got immediate buy in from the Mornington Peninsula Vignerons Association and several local wineries, then from the Macedon Ranges, Yarra Valley and Adelaide Hills regions, and from Wine Australia, which provided a Visiting Scholar Bursary to help cover costs.

As a result, Simonit and Sirch specialists Marco Tessari and Giacomo Manzoni flew to Australia last winter, at the height of the pruning season, to hold workshops in all four regions and work one-on-one for a day with 10 individual wineries. And they have been overwhelmed by the response.

‘They have signed so many contracts that Marco has committed to spend at least nine months of the year in Australia’, Adrian said. ‘They aren’t consultants or contract pruners; their prime business is training people.’

The concept of soft pruning was developed in France, but Adrian says Simonit and Sirch have refined it to the extent that it is becoming the preferred approach in many of the world’s top vineyards. And they are doing that through practical actions.

‘They dissect a vine – cut it in half down the whole length – and that is absolutely revealing because suddenly you see where there is dieback from cuts, fungal disease emanating around cuts and the way it progresses down the trunks; and you compare those vines with vines that are healthy. It just blows you away.’

Adrian is equally impressed by the ability of the Australian sector to get something happening so quickly.

‘Mark Krstic, the AWRI’s node manager in Victoria, was also excited and his association with our regional body was important. And then we had Wine Australia to help with funding. We’re very lucky that we’ve got these structures in place.’

Applications for Wine Australia’s travel and visiting scholar bursaries close
6 October 2017. Visit for more information.

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This content is restricted to wine exporters and levy-payers. Some reports are available for purchase to non-levy payers/exporters.