The annual WineGB Pruning Competition provides a perfect opportunity for viticulturists from the UK to get together to celebrate the art of pruning. It was impressive to see so many vineyard professionals come together on 17 March 2023 at Yotes Court Vineyard for the ‘Battle of the Secateurs’.  

In weather which can only be described as hostile, pruning teams from Hazel Street Vineyard, Davenport Vineyard, Simpsons, Ridgeview, Vineworks, Plumpton, two teams from Gusbourne distinguished as Gusbourne Kent and Gusbourne Sussex and two teams from Brenley went head to head displaying their excellent skills to both the judges and the brave, though slightly soggy, spectators. 

The atmosphere was amazing and it was a privilege to witness an event that celebrates those who work really hard to improve the quality of grapes produced. Award winning wines often grab headlines but these wines would not be possible without outstanding grapes and the very best grapes come from the healthiest vines. Outlining details of the competition, joint organiser Tony Purdie, Vineyard Manager of Yotes Court explained: “Production should come second to the health of the vine… Pruning is a constructive job.” Teams of three had to prune, pull out and tie down five vines in 10 minutes. There were penalty points for not tying down and extra points to be gained from pruning additional vines. 

The challenge was made even more interesting as there had been no shoot thinning of the vines. One competitor joked that the vines “looked like a set of bagpipes.” Despite the complexity of the challenge, Tito Sordi of Simonit and Sirch said: “The time limit may have had an influence over some choices. It was not easy as there were lots of options but this can be better as it gives the opportunity to make a definite choice, the competitors made a good job.” 

Marco Simonit was overseeing the panel of judges. The author of Cordon, The Handbook of Vine Pruning, Marco said: “There was a good technical level displayed and respect for the wood was shown, which is good news.” Marco suggested that pruners take care over the age of the wood they select when making their choices. When asked about the weather Marco – who was head to foot in wet weather clothing – smiled charmingly and said simply: “The weather is not the best for pruning.”

Tony Purdie and James Dodson of VineWorks started the competition together several years ago. Tony Purdie explained that although March does not always have the best weather it is important that the competition is held when those taking part have had the opportunity to get their skills back up to full speed. Tony also explained that it was important for the host venue to find the right uniform bays so there were no unfair aspects to the competition. 

James Dodson was very upset at the fact that he was stranded at an airport as his plane had been seriously delayed so he was not able to attend the competition, he extended his apologies and was very disappointed at being absent. He has never missed a competition before and he wanted to thank all who had taken part. “I would like to say a special thank you to all the sponsors Agrii, Bedlam Brewery, Felco, Hadley Group, NFU Mutual, Bekaert, NP Seymour, Pépinère Tourette, Vineyard Magazine and VineWorks,” said James. “The feedback from the competition was good in all cases and we are looking for more sponsorship in the future to develop the event and encourage more participants whilst maintaining the focus as a celebration of the viticultural side of the industry,” he added.

  The atmosphere and camaraderie were evident throughout the day, it was a great opportunity to celebrate vineyard skills was great. Everyone, including the judges, was in good spirits and as the judges gathered in the vineyard to ensure the marking was standardised Joel Jorgenson of Vinescapes joked that he was “not so comfortable with a clipboard and more comfortable with the secateurs.” 

“Of all the disciplines in the vineyard pruning is the most skilled and the competition offers the chance both to show off skill and to learn something,” explained Matt Strugnell Vineyard Manager of Ridgeview Estates and part of the judging panel. Speaking to the judges it was clear that they all felt that overall quality year on year is getting better. A common observation amongst all the judges highlighted how the pruning was very respectful of the health of the vine. 

Before the teams commenced their competition there was a solo competition in which Naomi Solomon was the only female entrant. She was supported by her dog Ernie who she said had picked up on the tension as he was far more alert than usual. First place in the Solo Pruning Competition was awarded to Phil Harris, Vineyard manager at Davenport Vineyards and owner of Natalia Harris Vineyard, Naomi Solomon was awarded second place whilst Jim Pritchard achieved third place. 

Congratulations go to the winners in the team event with Gusbourne Kent taking first place. The three-person team at Gusbourne Kent comprising of Alex Stancu, Jim Pritchard and Ben Osbourne took home the trophy. The team from Brenley A (last year’s winning team) consisting of Ben Turner, Peter Davis and Naomi Solomon placed second and the team from Ridgeview were awarded third place.

The winners were provided with Felco goody bags donated by NP Seymour who were there on the day to support the event. Prize bags for the winners included a pair of Felco 8, 911 holster, f602 saw, 703 gloves XL, and a Felco 501 knife. Second place prizes included a pair of Felco 8, 910 holster together with 702 gloves XL, whilst the prize for third place was a pair of Felco 8 and 701 gloves XL.

Congratulations to all the participants – we are all looking forward to next year.

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