The effectiveness of early leaf removal on high-yielding cultivars Sangiovese and Trebbiano (Vitis vinifera L.) was investigated as a tool for reducing crop potential and for inducing looser clusters that are less susceptible to rot. Fruit set, cluster weight, berry number per cluster, berry size, and cluster compactness were reduced by all defoliation treatments as compared to non-defoliated shoots. Physiological assessment performed in a one-year study on Sangiovese indicated that prebloom removal of the six basal leaves elicited no difference between treatments in mean seasonal assimilation (A) per shoot (2.91 μmol s−1 for control against 2.81 μmol s−1 for the defoliated), a fact due to the offsetting action of more vigorous lateral shoot formation and higher A rates for both main and lateral leaves after veraison in the defoliated shoots. Grape composition was improved by defoliation (higher Brix in both cultivars and higher anthocyanins and phenolics in Sangiovese) as a result of more assimilates being available per unit of cropping and smaller berries characterized by an increased skin-to-pulp ratio. The three-year-study on Trebbiano also showed no carryover effects of defoliation on the following year’s bud differentiation and very few year x treatment interactions, suggesting the prevailing effects of leaf removal over variability because of climate. Overall, early defoliation may be an excellent tool for yield control, replacing time-consuming manual cluster thinning. A time-consistent response suggests that this practice may also improve grape composition.
- Copyright © 2006 by the American Society for Enology and Viticulture