My early appreciation for vigor was shaped by President John F. Kennedy. It seemed every speech was lit up by the word, pronounced vigorously as – “vigah.” “Vigah” was etched in my childhood mind as a cardinal virtue, invoking images of all that is robust, strong, healthy, shining, vibrant, confident, competitive.
Vigor is also relevant in a vineyard. At first glance, I thought of JFK and assumed vigor was synonymous with desirable. But apparently, not quite.
End of May and our oenologue, Francoise, came by yesterday for the first inspection of the season. After the problems of last May (cold and rain) everyone is wary of making positive pronouncements until the flowering is passed. But it’s obvious the vineyard is flourishing. Francoise even allowed herself to say she hasn’t yet seen a vineyard so vigorous. Did I hear a sub-text there? Perhaps too vigorous?
And so, another thing to bridle. There’s an old saying – a vineyard needs hardship in order to produce good wine. (Frankly, I hate this saying. It reminds me of my mother brushing my hair hard and scolding: “Stop whining. You know it hurts to be beautiful.”) But the principle is the same; we have to tame this vigorous vineyard with brushes and cutters if we want beautiful, juicy berries.
It’s time for the first trimming. For greater flavor in the wine, we want to concentrate the vigor of the vines into the grapes by eliminating whatever will distract. Our work is limited. Not knowing what climactic conditions might hit us in the coming weeks, (i.e. loss) we prune away only the “pampres” and “gormands” (useless shoots that siphon off energy.) The hard part is making sure not to cut off a vital young shoot that might serve as the spur for the cane in the years to follow.
Now while the stems are young and flexible, they’re easy to snap off by hand. In July when we can actually see how the grapes are clustered, the superfluous stems will be hard and stiff and we’ll need gloves and cutters.
That’s all to be done for the moment. Everything is delicate until the flower appears, likely next week. We have no choice but to go pick cherries.