Marco Simonit has Reinvented the Role of the Vineyard Pruner

Marco Simonit pruning vines.
Marco Simonit

Agronomist Marco Simonit was born into a family of winemakers and farmers and developed a passion for drawing the animals on his grandparent’s Friuli farm. He did not, however, spend much time in the vineyard or fields.

It was only after he attended the Agriculture College in Cividale del Friuli and took a job with the Collio wine consorzio that he took a hard look at a vineyard.

“That’s when I first noticed all the cuts on the vines, and realized how much vines can suffer,” Simonit says. He set out to learn why some thrived and others died. In 2003, he and childhood friend Pierpaolo Sirch founded Preparatori d’Uva–the Grape Preparers– to teach winegrowers hand-pruning methods to avoid damaging vine cuts. They opened the Simonit&Sirch Italian School of Vine Pruning in 2009, and in 2016 created the first degree course in grapevine pruning at the University of Bordeaux.

Today, the Pruning Guys are a team of 20 that consult with 130 wineries in 11 countries. Clients include Angelo Gaja, Ferrari, Bellavista, Château Latour and Château d’Yquem.

Sirch, now CEO of Feudi di San Gregorio, retains 50 percent of the business, while Simonit is its driving force.

What is your typical day?

“The only thing typical about my day is that every day is different. I might go to sleep one night in Bordeaux, and two days later be walking through a vineyard in South Africa. I usually start off trying the wines with the estate owners to discuss how our work in the vineyards is translating into the wines. Then I walk the vineyards to check on vine health with the onsite agronomist.

Do you travel often?

About 70 percent of my time. I love it, but it’s hard to be away from my daughter and son. Now that they’re 10 and 7, I take them with me whenever I can. They have a blast running around the vineyards.”

What training did you have to create your pruning method?

“There were no courses when I started out, which is how I knew there was a need for them. I’m self-taught. I learned by walking the vineyards and realized that pruning methods had to be overhauled and refined. We developed a method of precision pruning based on four principles, including making only small cuts in select areas to respect the sap flow and reduce wood disease.”

Any mentors along the way?

“Professor Attilio Scienza from the University of Milan was one of the first to believe in us and our innovative pruning method. He helped spread the word among top estates in Italy. And the late professor Denis Dubourdieu–the famous enologist–who contacted us in 2011 about problems with ailing plants in Graves. Thanks to him, we began working with Bordeaux estates and Bordeaux University.”

What do you look for in hiring someone and any advice?

“I used to look for technical competence, but now I look for people who are passionate about spending their time in the vineyards and who love to travel all over the world.”

“If you have an idea you feel strongly about, be brave and go for it, even if other people say you’re crazy. Thirty years ago, people laughed at my ideas. No one’s laughing anymore.”

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Published on October 16, 2017
Topics: A Day In The Life