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Jackson Family Wines

Achieving Vine Balance Through Spring Pruning

By Sarah Doyle

It’s spring cane pruning time in the Jackson family’s Kelli Ann Vineyard, where crews are working hard to prepare the Russian River Valley vineyard’s 90 acres of Chardonnay for the 2020 growing season. Producing top quality fruit for La Crema, Hartford, and Matanzas Creek, the vineyard blocks range from four to 31-years-old, all of which thrive in the region’s cool climate.


Today, crews are tidying up the vines in preparation for bud break, which typically happens here in March. Most of the prior year’s canes are being cut back while the vine’s most viable limbs and spurs are preserved for the upcoming growing season. While it may look like simple physical labor, it takes great knowledge and skill to determine which canes to keep and which to remove. Here at the Kelli Ann Vineyard, the crews are moving ahead with both gusto and precision and under the unusually warm February sun. 


“Our main goal is to prune the vineyards to achieve vine balance,” says Shaun Kajiwara, JFW’s director of farming. To achieve this balance, the vines are pruned to remove inferior canes and encourage the perfect ratio of fruit to vegetative growth. All of this plays a large role in producing high quality grapes—and high-quality wine. 


A warming planet means the vineyard team must take extra precautions to ensure the quality of future fruit. In the Kelli Ann Vineyard, the youngest vines were planted on 1103 Paulsen rootstock, which boasts hearty, drought-resistant roots that can search for moisture deep beneath the soil. The team is also experimenting with longer, less-frequent irrigation, which encourages deep root growth. And to protect fruit against intense sunlight, expertly placed leaves provide shade to grapes susceptible to sunburn. 


“We’re also leaving more fruit on the vine, which can slow down ripening and help maintain natural acidity at harvest,” says Shaun.


Between the rows, lush cover crops carpet the soil in a sprawling bouquet of barley, rye, mustard, crimson clover, fava beans, and calendula. Not only does this nitrogen-rich ground cover provide vital nutrients to the vines, it also helps prevent erosion, protect top soil, limit pest and diseases, and create healthy biodiversity in the vineyard.


In March, the crew will return to the vineyard for suckering, which involves removing excess vegetative growth to ensure the developing buds get all the nutrients they need to grow into high quality fruit. It’s an exciting time in the vineyard with so much promise all around.

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