Can you dig it? Pruning grapevines in Nova Scotia

As the birds begin whistling and singing for spring, our friends the grapes are waking up from their long winter’s nap. Isn’t that just lovely? How delightful.

No. Not according to our vineyard manager, Marcel. It’s not lovely nor delightful because most of Nova Scotia’s vineyards haven’t started pruning yet.

Why not, you lazy slugs? Ah yes, because it LOOKS LIKE THIS…

Oh there you are grapevines. I htought you were just a load of magic wands dancing in quinoa

Oh there you are grapevines. I thought you were just a load of magic wands dancing in quinoa

Snow is no foe to our friend the grape. In fact, in Canada snow is the shawl around the shoulders of the vine, protecting them from bitter winds and ice.

But snow does hinder the intrepid pruner, blocking access to the vines and smothering the shoots like an overprotective snowmum.

Stay pruned folks!

It’s important to prune so that you get the maximum potential out of your plant. By removing last year’s wood you keep the vine young and rejuvenated, encouraging a consistent  healthy yield year after year.  Left to its own devices, fungus and bacteria can set in on the old wood; the vines get competitive with their neighbors and decrease the fruit produced.

Dormant yoga

When dormant, you can twirl and bend their ballerina elastic vine limbs into whatever position you like. The VSP (Vertical Shoot Positioning) method is usually used in Nova Scotia, where last year’s shoots and canes are stripped from the vine apart from two young shoots; these two will be flexed along the lowest trellising and become the new canes for next year’s growth.

Problems arise after nap time. Upon waking, the vines send sap through their joints that hardens like toffee, creating brittle shoots which can snap off in your hand like old starfish arms. Losing a shoot means losing half of that plants’ crop.

This has been an unusually snow-laden winter, with 15 foot snow drifts peeping in through people’s bedroom windows. All has been delayed until the snow subsides, but now the sap is telling us that pruning waits for no man. It’s time to take action.

First, Marcel clears the way.

Snow blowing the snow from between the vines.

Snow blowing from between the vines.

With the plough attached, the tractor clears between the vines. We humbly thank thee tractor.

We humbly thank thee tractor.


Eye of the storm.

Eye of the storm.



Grab the shovels. Dig it.


Shelley, Richard and I grab the shovels.

Unveil the vine!

Unveil the vine!

Start pruning!


After the vine has been dug out, Marcel begins the pruning. Look – he’s smiling!

It’s a lengthy, grafty process that is a race against the next snowfall. Each climate, world-wide, presents its challenges to the grower and this is one of Nova Scotia’s biggest difficulties. It’s the price we pay to play host to vineyards here, but also what gives a completely unique acidity and crispness to our wines. I know Marcel would never say this out loud, nor probably allow himself to whisper it in his head, or even indulge his subconscious in a brief, flirty moment – but he really wouldn’t want it any other way.

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