Friday, 22 December 2023 16:25

Reshaping the Vine: Marco Simonit's 'gentle pruning' aiding vine longevity

Written by  Tony Skinner
Marco Simonit Marco Simonit

In the world of winemaking, where tradition often collides with innovation, Marco Simonit’s pioneering techniques in vine pruning are transforming how growers approach vineyard management.

“The first goal is to put in more life, not just to remove wood,” he says.

Marco recently toured New Zealand’s wine regions to showcase his ‘gentle pruning’ technique and outline his approach and philosophy towards vine health. This centres on a new attitude to the geometry of planting and adopting pruning methods that prioritise the health and longevity of vines from the start.

Marco’s pruning technique does not merely cut uniformly; it observes and nurtures the individual plant’s needs, extending a vine’s productive life well beyond the average 20 years.

Vine trunk diseases, a pressing issue that has plagued vast swathes of vineyards in Italy and France, are at the heart of Marco’s work. His method is designed to fortify vines against these diseases and the adverse impacts of climate change. He focuses on building “a chronology of live wood”, fostering nutrient flow, and ensuring the plant’s longevity.

Growing up in Collio, Italy, Marco’s childhood was steeped in the rhythms of the family farm, a foundation that later saw him working with the Collio growers’ association for a decade.

In 2003, a partnership with Pierpaolo Sirch blossomed into Simonit & Sirch. The company has since expanded its reach with branches in France, the US, and South Africa, with an annual turnover nearing €4 million.

Marco also founded the Vine Master Pruners Academy, a digital platform teaching vine pruning with 15,000 subscribers from 14 countries. He has established a masters degree course in pruning and shoot-thinning with the University of Bordeaux.

Marco believes that many challenges facing vineyard managers today have stemmed from the adoption of Vertical Shoot Positioning (VSP) trellis systems. The precision and uniformity demanded by VSP systems often lead to a more mechanical approach to vine cultivation, prioritising efficiency and control over the natural disposition of the vine.

According to Marco, this change has inadvertently escalated the prevalence of pruning-related issues, as the strict spatial restrictions can stress the vines, potentially worsening susceptibility to diseases and affecting longevity.

While the technical aspects of Simonit’s pruning methods - what to cut and where - are relatively straightforward, the challenge lies in integrating these into a sustainable, long-term process.

By respecting the vine’s structure and dynamics, growers can achieve homogeneity in shoot development and fruit ripening, reducing the incidence of disease and extending the vine’s lifespan – a tactic that significantly slashes costs over the long term.

Mart Verstappen, Membership Manager for Marlborough Grape Growers Cooperative (MGGC), which hosted Marco and his team during their visit to the region, said this approach would require a mindset change. However, he says this is a conversation MGGC is keen to facilitate, given the number of growers currently contemplating replanting to ensure past mistakes are not repeated.

Marco says his techniques also allow vines to mature more harmoniously with their terroir, expressing the full spectrum of their genetic potential in the glass. His general observations in New Zealand mirror his global experiences – a universal trepidation among viticulturists of losing control over their vines.

However, in his conversations around the country’s vineyards, Marco says that most are open to the concept of understanding and adapting to the vines’ natural growth, respecting their sap flow, and avoiding damage to the trunk. “We need to have a more respectful, more gentle approach with the vines to try to find the best way and solutions for the short, medium and long term to develop the structure of the vine, according to the space you have available.”

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