The annual growth cycle of the grapevine consists of several stages: budburst (or bud break), flower cluster initiation, flowering, fruit set, berry development, harvest and dormancy. Bud break begins in the springtime, when the previously dormant buds begin to grow shoots. This is also the time of year where the important viticultural practice of suckering takes place.
When the weather begins to warm up – and bud-break starts – a rapid acceleration of shoot growth occurs. Suckering is the process of removing mainly non-bearing shoots (basically, unwanted growth on the vine), but some crop-bearing vines may also be removed, to lower the growth pressure on the vine later on.
The practice of suckering forms a vital part of canopy management, which in turn is essential for producing high quality grapes. If – during the growing phase – all the shoots are left to develop fully, the vine will devote too many nutrients, and too much energy into growing the foliage, and the grapes produced will be of reduced quality. By taking this growth pressure off the vine, water and nutrients will be channeled to the grape bunches.
The physical process of suckering the vines is intensive, and painstakingly managed to ensure shoots are removed quickly, accurately, and efficiently. The timing of suckering is also extremely critical. On average, Christo’s team does three passes for each vineyard block. The first suckering is completed when the shoots are between 5 and 10cm. The second pass is done a month later, and the third pass a month after that. This careful timing ensures that there is an evenness of growth, of ripening and of berry size, throughout each vineyard block.
Suckering also allows for better canopy management. If non-bearing shoots are left to grow to maturity, the canopy may grow too dense, and not allow sufficient sunlight to reach the developing grape berries, which in turn negatively influences ripening. Once complete, the vines will grow into their full summer splendour, and the countdown to perfectly ripe berries – and the beginning of harvest – truly begins.