A winemaker friend of mine recently explained winemaking to me as a subtractive process in opposition to an additive process. This rang a bell in my mind and stirred a memory from my intro to sculpture class in college. We were told there are generally two methods of sculpture-making, subtractive or additive, the primary examples being marble vs clay. A sculptor chips away at marble to reveal a shape or lumps on top lumps of clay to form up a shape.
In winemaking, this works if you take the primary substance to be the grape must. The wine maker is off to a good start if he can get his hands on the best material available, that is really good grapes. Then they take away the sugars by process of controlled fermentation, and remove harsh tannins through temperature control during fermentation and careful press off, followed by minute manipulations in the aging process to continue to reduce unwanted flavonoids and augment desirable ones, not to mention settling processes, careful racking and potential additional filtration for clarity and color. It is possible to make wine from Welch’s grape juice without even going through a fermentation process, but that’s not what we’re in this for. That’d be an additive process: artificial alcoholization, color additions, throwing in substances to improve clarity, etc. Minimal winemaking is shepherding the grapes through successive subtractive processes to arrive at fine wine.
I try to relate what I post about with what’s going on around me, just recently everyone in the valley was pruning. In fact there is a bad way to prune in which you let the spurs build up too high and that’s called building castles in the air; another sculptural reference.
There is the pruner/sculptor: faced with sculpting this vine, the base pattern is already there in set spur positions from the first few years of growth, the aim on an annual basis for established vineayrds is to keep the vine from sprawling all over, and the green growth taking over rather than the vine’s energy focusing on fruit development. So last year’s wood is removed with a few inches of 1-year old wood left at each spur with about two to three buds on it to make new shoots aiming, as the pruner would have been selective of, in the right direction so as not to clutter the canopy area.
New buds do poke out all over a vine at the beginning of each season as its nature as a vine is to sprawl. That’s next in the vineyard: suckering, the removal of unwanted young shoots that spring out all over the vine, concentrated at the base and along the cordon arms. Then you remove leaves, and shoot tips, and green clusters, and second growth clusters and excessive clusters and hopefully you don’t have to but sometimes you gotta go remove sunburnt clusters, or mildew infested clusters, until the final removal: the mature fruit at harvest time. The words for all this in grapegrowing make up a neat list of synonyms for subtractive methods: pruning off, removing dead wood, suckering, shoot thinning, tipping or hedging, pulling leaves, dropping clusters, green drop, cluster thinning, and of course harvesting.
The pruner as a sculptor is using a subtractive method on a material that keeps slowly growing, so the sculptor/pruner has to keep coming back to make more subtractive gestures to the vine over a period of 160 to 190 days, depending on the weather during that growing season. Each time is called a vineyard pass, and many many passes make up premium grape growing as the field worker walks the vineyard row to do these subtractive methods. Some passes can now be down by machine without damage to fruit quality, most are still done by hand.
It’s pretty clear that there is an art to almost everything, from washing dishes to mural painting, but I’m interested to see the parallel between wine making and pruning as they illustrate this basic sculptural method.