Before leaving these references to the growing of the grape I purpose making a few remarks upon pruning, a subject which is as interesting as it is important. The objects of pruning are manifold. By it the cultivation of the vine is facilitated; the best results are obtained from each variety of grape; the yield is increased; the product is more uniform in character; and the quality of the wine is vastly improved. But a great deal of the work of pruning is so entirely technical that it would utterly fail to possess any attraction for the general reader. Consequently I shall attempt no more than to briefly refer to those particular matters which are of Australian concern.
Now, it is laid down as a rule for pruning that some vines should be pruned short, while others require long pruning; that is to say, one variety of vine requires to be repressed, as it were, and in another the branches have to be kept long to produce a superior quality of wine. The explanation is that while the sap is on its way through the roots, the stem, the branches, and the shoots of the vine, for the production of fruit, it is distilled out, so to speak, during its passage from the earth to the fruit. As Mr. George Sutherland prettily puts it, the grape is, in fact, the crowning product of the whole plant. In this way, the farther the sap has to travel through the Whole vine on its way to the growing fruit, the better will the resulting wine be.
To a certain extent this is true of all vines, but more especially so in the case of Shiraz and some of the Pinots. In various districts of France, in order to bring the grape to perfection, the vine-growers will train out their main branches along trellises to a length of 50 and even 60 feet, so as to give the sap the longest possible distance to travel; and, further, for the purpose of concentrating into the fruit the Whole result of the vine, all the buds and little shoots, which would distract therefrom, are carefully taken away. This gives to the vine a very curious look, but it serves well to illustrate how greatly vines differ as to whether they require short or long pruning. It also helps to a better understanding of the two main styles of training the vine already mentioned, namely, the "gooseberry bush " and the "trellising."
The fact that this elaboration of the sap in long-pruned vines requires a long distance to intervene between the roots and the fruit itself, is one of considerable importance. It is necessary to remember, however, that cultivation of this kind requires additional labour. Moreover, one of the principal reasons why the short-pruned vine has become such a favourite in Australia is that it is a labour-saving vine, and therefore its adoption is almost a necessity. But, as Mr. Sutherland remarks, "there is no doubt that Aus-"tralia can never hope to produce in any quantity the finest "qualities of wine until the vignerons attend more to those "practices which depend essentially upon the fundamental "fact that the sap flows with different habits through "different varieties of vines; and, therefore, that some "vines require short pruning, while it is even more im-"portant to remember that others will only yield satis-"factorily under a system of long pruning."
In a paper on viticulture, at Mildura, which was drawn up for the Royal Commission on Vegetable Products in 1890, Mr. Francois de Castella, a former Expert to the Board of Viticulture, Victoria, has condensed so much knowledge within a small compass that I have quoted the following : -
"Most of the settlers I met told me that they intended to prune their vines short. Now, in my opinion, they could not make a greater mistake - for wine-growing, at least; as for raisin-growing, I have never taken any interest in the subject, and, having no experience, do not wish to express an opinion on it. I must say that all the settlers I had occasion to speak to were raisin-growers, but I should warn any future wine-grower at Mildura, who may chance to read these few notes, to beware of short pruning.
"Most of our vineyard labourers come from the cold parts of Europe, such as Switzerland, where grapes ripen with difficulty under ordinary circumstances, and where the vine does not take any considerable development. There, short pruning has to be resorted to in order to make a drinkable wine. When these men arrive in Australia they bring all their old habits and prejudices with them, and tell the inexperienced vineyard proprietor that long pruning weakens the vine. The proprietor, thinking that they know more about the subject than he does, allows them to do as they like, and they set to work to cut the vine down to such an extent that, unable to take advantage of the genial climate to which it has been transplanted, it gives only one-eighth or one-tenth of the quantity of grapes it could be made to bear with intelligent pruning, besides being much weakened; whereas long-pruning strengthens a vine if the climate be favourable to its development.
"Another disadvantage of short pruning in warm climates is the well-known fact that the less grapes you have on the vine, the more glucose the must will contain; therefore, instead of making much more per acre of a drinkable wine, which they easily could do, they content themselves with a much smaller quantity per acre of a wine which ferments so badly that alcohol has to be added to prevent the production of lactic acid, resulting from the excessive temperature reached during fermentation favouring the development of this particular germ.
"The resulting wine, a curious mixture of alcohol, sugar, lactic acid, and water, is most unpalatable, sour, uninviting, and unwholesome, besides ruining the name of Australian wine when sold as such.
"I may here warn vine-growers against the advice given to them by some would-be authorities, who tell them they can make a light wine by picking grapes before they are ripe. This is absurd. The unripe grape contains a certain percentage of vegetable acids, such as tartaric, malic, etc, etc, some of which are themselves converted into glucose during the process of ripening, whilst others are eliminated after helping to transform the starch of the vegetable tissues into glucose. It stands to reason that if the fruit be picked before complete maturity, these acids, which are not capable of fermenting, will be found unchanged in the wine produced, thereby rendering it acid and undrink-able. It is, of course, necessary, in warm climates, to pick the grapes before they get over-ripe or shrivel up; but it would be just as foolish to rush to the other extreme, and pick the fruit too soon.
"If, instead of blindly following the mode of culture which has been adopted in a cold climate, the vine-grower would listen to the dictates of reason, and were to try a few inexpensive experiments, he would soon find out his mistake, and confer a boon on himself as well as on his neighbour, not to speak of the consumers of his wine.
" Even in the cooler districts of Victoria, such as the Yarra Valley, I do not know of any variety of vine which is weakened by long pruning, even in a series of years; while certain varieties are so influenced by short pruning as to bear no fruit at all. If this be the case on the Yarra, how much more must it be so on the Murray?"
Mr. de Castella then referred to some other matters connected with the practices followed at Mildura, and concluded with these encouraging words : -
"I contend that no other culture will give such magnificent returns, do so much good to a country, or have greater attractions for the happy proprietor of the vineyard, as there is no branch of agriculture which presents such a vast field for experimental research, or which is so extensively benefited by the practical application of scientific laws and principles, as viticulture."