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Vineyard Pruning in Maui

Vineyard Pruning in Maui

We’re about to start the 2020 growing season in Ulupalakua, Maui… let’s take a few minutes and talk about how it all kicks off.

Most think the beginning of the growing season starts in the spring, when the buds break and you get to see that gorgeous pop of green life emerge from a set of otherwise dead looking branches. Not the case, the real start is pruning, when the vines are relieved of their previous years efforts and designed to start all over again when the time comes. Pruning doesn’t often get the stage time it deserves. It happens in the “off season”, it doesn’t have the same excitement to it as bud-break or harvest, it makes the vineyard look dead and empty in contrast to the image we all have in our heads of what a beautiful, healthy vineyard should look like. But the fact is, pruning is one of the most critical actions during the life of a vintage, especially here in Maui. So critical in fact that back in the early years of our vineyard we would fly in an experienced crew from California just to help us do it.

What makes pruning so important?

It’s easy to forget that grape vines are just that, VINES. Left unattended they will grow unruly, climb all over everything and become less-effective fruit producers. When you drive by a vineyard and see all the vines growing neatly and uniformly, this is by design and much instruction. Years of effort by the vineyard hands, guiding each vine to grow in a way that encourages them to become their most efficient selves in their specific environment. The decisions made each year at pruning are obviously critical to the success of the vines, the fruit they grow, and therefore the quality and personality of that years wine. What’s even more daunting is the choices made for that one year’s growth will undoubtedly have an impact beyond that year. Those choices will affect the way the vine grows for many vintages and even impact the life of the vine as a whole. For mature vines the process can seem fairly consistent, but each vine is its own and grows independently. Without fail you will come across issues including any number of variances. Each situation is unique, a choice needs to be made, and that choice has implications. It can and will induce a bit of stress. Ultimately a decision is made, but it required thought, often times sacrifice and it always ends with a rush of hope and anticipation that the right choice was made.

How is it different in Maui?

Well it is and it ain’t! While our vineyard is rare and unique in many ways, the general principles are the same. Our vineyard isn’t designed in a way that makes it look and grow unlike anything the wine world has ever seen. For the most part it acts quite normally, the tools at hand and the decisions made are comparable to most grape growing. That said, there is one thing in particular that makes things in Ulupalakua Vineyards remarkable, our conditions for pruning.

Winter in Maui

We don’t prune in the winter or off season because there isn’t one. Yes of course we experience winter in Maui but not in the way its experienced in the more traditional grape growing regions of the world. What this means is, without a winter our vines never truly go dormant and so there’s not really an off season. When we prune, the vines will start growing again. Knowing this, we do everything during this time to put energy into the vines and help them get through the shock of pruning and push out a vigorous set of new growth. This being an unusual thing, means there’s a whole bunch of unusual challenges, but it also provides a fair bit of advantage as well.

There are some advantages to grape growing in Maui

Instead of waiting for spring, we have a say in designing our vineyard schedule and get to start anew at specific times for specific reasons. In determining the schedule, we can stagger the vineyard to begin the growth cycle at different times to even the work load and help us care for the vineyard with specific intent. We’re able identify certain varietals and areas of the vineyard based on their growing tendencies to set up timing that accentuates or assists their unique needs and promotes healthy vines and the most interesting of fruit. While the challenges remain, as they do for every farmer, they’re known challenges and ones we’ve evolved to manage well. At the end of the day, its both the advantages and disadvantages or your vineyard that help define a sense of place in your wines.

One of a kind

It’s so often that we’re asked to explain and describe how we’ve been able to successfully grow vinifera in such an extraordinary place with such unusual conditions. In answering its difficult not to waffle between the idea that we’re truly rare and at the same time just like everyone else. We suppose it’s in the specifics that we can argue our uniqueness, and pruning here in Maui is certainly one of those specifics that points towards Ulupalakua Vineyards as truly one of a kind.

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