The Art of Hedging at Clos de la Tech
Most vineyards in the world hedge their vines by cutting off the green growth at the top of the vines to create a square shrubbery-like profile to channel the energy of the plant away from green growth to the grape clusters. In some vineyards, especially in France, where it rains during the summer, hedging is performed continuously throughout the season. We view hedging as a necessary evil. It does a lot of damage to the plants. The ideal situation is to have vines that grow to their proper hedge height—and stop. While this is never completely achievable in the practical world, Clos de la Tech hedges only lightly, once per year, for two reasons. First, since our vines are closely spaced, we can import French vines that are genetically selected for low vigor. The California vineyards with wider vine spacing cannot use those low-vigor vines, which are bred for producing excellent quality crops, not for their ability to grow quickly and produce high yields.
The one benefit we do get from hedging is increased “hang time,” by keeping the clusters on the vine a week or more to ripen the tannins better. In California, sugar ripeness is easily achieved, but getting smooth, ripe-flavored tannin takes longer. By hedging our vines very short, leaving just 10 to 14 leaves on each cane, the vines create sugar more slowly, allowing the tannins to ripen better.
The second reason we need less hedging is that we do not water the grapes for most or all of the growing season. This “dry farming” technique is mandated by law in France. When our vineyards begin to dry out in late August, our vines typically end their green growth phase and “focus” on ripening their crop. By using low-vigor vines and dry farming most of the season, we have greatly reduced the amount of hedging we have to do at Clos de la Tech—and saved a lot of water. Our vines are typically watered with only 1.5 gallons of water, just five times per year. Scientists at U.C. Davis discovered years ago that very lightly watered vines produce better wine (albeit with lower yields) because the water-starved plants produce more bouquet compounds to attract birds to scatter their seeds as a survival “strategy.”
Paradoxically, hedging is the most common vineyard pruning practice—and the one that we try to avoid, while the other more advanced but expensive pruning techniques we use are employed in only a small percentage of the world’s best vineyards. Yet, the one time we hedge, we do so vigorously, and in doing so, produce silky tannins.
– T.J. Rodgers
T.J. Rodgers is a member of the UC Davis Department of Enology & Viticulture Board of Advisors and Fellows. He designed, built and donated the advanced fermentation equipment used in the UC Davis Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science.
Clos de la Tech Pinot Noir is currently available for purchase here.
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