Activity in the Napa vineyards barely pauses once the last grapes of the season are harvested. Soon after the leaves have fallen, the painstaking process of pruning the vines begins that will prepare them for the next growing season.

Each year during the winter months of January and February, grapevines become dormant. While in dormancy, vineyard managers throughout Napa and Yountville wineries begin carefully cutting back the previous season’s vine growth. Since the pruning process influences how the grapes will develop in the future, each vine must be carefully pruned by hand.

Precision pruning encourages maximum yields of the highest quality grapes. Insufficiently pruned vines or ones that left without pruning subsequently produce grape clusters that cannot ripen properly due to over development.

The goal of pruning each year is to create the right balance between vine vegetation and grape yield. Too much vegetation tends to shade the grapes and retard grape maturity. Removal of all excess canes, shoots, and leaves during this process will yield the best crop without delaying the maturation of the grapes in late summer and fall.


Two Methods of Pruning

Napa vineyards employ two different methods of pruning. These are called cane pruning and cordon pruning. While both practices are acceptable, vineyard managers choose the one most appropriate for each vineyard.

In either case, it should be noted that new grapes develop best from one-year-old wood. Therefore, both pruning systems involve identifying canes from last year’s growth that will establish the right basis for the coming year’s grapes.


  • Cane Pruning

Cane pruning incorporates cutting away all but two of the recent year’s canes and channeling these in opposite directions along the horizontal fruiting wire. Rather than establishing permanent horizontal canes as in cordon pruning, the pruner lays two right-sized canes to develop new growth for the coming season. This method allows for greater flexibility and control over each vine’s annual growth.

Vineyard Management Pruning

  • Cordon Pruning

Cordon pruning involves establishing permanent horizontal canes (cordons) channeled horizontally in opposite directions from the vine’s base. The cordons become a permanent part of the vine structure, much like the trunk. The new shoots will grow from spurs on each arm, usually 2 shoots per spur. In this instance, last year’s canes are cut away from the cordons. In the spring, new growth will emerge.

Although both methods are widely used throughout Napa vineyards, cordon pruning tends to offer more consistent shoot growth.


What Happens to the Excess Canes?

In most instance, last season’s canes are dropped to the ground and mulched into the soil to provide vital nutrients to the soil surrounding the vine. This organic cycle repeats year after year.


Grapevine Wreath-Making Class at Hill Family Estate in Yountville

Hill Family Estate, one of the premier Yountville wineries, collects some of the canes removed by pruning to produce grapevine wreaths.

In fact, on the weekends of the holiday season, Hill Family Estate in Yountville is conducting its annual  Holiday Grapevine Wreath-Making Class for groups of one through ten.

You can make your reservations online now for:

  • December 21st and December 22nd at 10:30 AM
  • December 28th and December 29th at 10:30 AM

While learning and doing, you may also sip some of the excellent Hill Family Estate wines as you craft your personal grapevine masterpiece that will decorate your home from year to year.