Does anyone know when pruning the leaves from vine first started or who by? I know it wasn't practiced until recent (last 500 years or so) but haven't been able to pinpoint who and when?

  • Please clarify. Pruning is cutting dead or dormant wood. I think you mean leaf pulling. This is a question that will never be answered. Commented Mar 4, 2019 at 23:22

3 Answers 3


I'm assuming you want to say, "Who are the first people to domesticate grape vines?". Grapevines are not "bushes" they are technically vines. In the wild they grow up the side of trees in a forest and try to reach their leaves above those of the trees and also grow their fruit high so the birds can eat berries and scatter the seeds.

Wild grape vines have 2 sexes but domesticated vines are hermaphroditic, which means they are self fertile (both sexes in the same flower) which makes it so much incredibly easier for the vines to produce fruit. It was a game changer when humans found these vines. Instead of only female plants producing fruit, now all vines produced fruit and lots of it. At the same time humans realize you could easily propagate vines by taking cuttings from a mother vine and they would produce the same exact vine over and over (a form of cloning).

There is evidence that suggests that humans had domesticated grape vines almost 10,000 years ago. It probably started with some people growing vines up trees deliberately and then switching to a trellis system to simulate trees. There are pictures in the ancient Egyptian tombs showing grapes being trained and harvested on a trellis system. So they were pruning them way back then. Later on, if you walked through a vineyard near ancient Rome, it wouldn't look too much different from vineyards you see anywhere in the world. So, we have been growing vines essentially the same way for at least 2000 years.

  • No, I meant what I said, grape vines were not pruned when first domestically grown with trellises and as mentioned this has only been happening for little more than 500 years or so. Commented Mar 4, 2019 at 16:33
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    @Seamusthedog By pruning do you mean discarding grapes to reduce yields and improve quality?
    – Eric S
    Commented Mar 4, 2019 at 20:04
  • @EricShain. Pruning means cutting back the leaves to expose the grapes to more direct sunlight which improves growth and quality. Reduced yields doesn't garentee improved quality, the climate, time of harvest and winemaker has more control over the finished wine. Commented Mar 4, 2019 at 20:15
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    @Seamusthedog it's not called pruning leaves, it's called pulling leaves. Pruning is the act of cutting dead or dormant branches from a plant. I'm sure as long as people have been growing grapes, they have been pulling leaves from around the fruit. Pulling leaves does not improve growth. The effect of pulling leaves is for better air circulation and more sun exposure. Air circulation to stop mildew growth and more sun exposure to give more flavor and enhance ripening. This is only in northern climates. In Spain and other hot climates, they actually promote shading from leaves to prevent burn. Commented Mar 4, 2019 at 23:21
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    @Seamusthedog exactly and I quote "Grapes should be pruned during their dormancy, usually in late winter" this is not what you are talking about. Humans have been pruning vines for as long as they have been domesticated, about 5000 year. Commented Mar 25, 2019 at 21:03

In your question, you write:

I know it wasn't practiced until recent (last 500 years or so)

On what basis do you know that? If you've done some prior research on the topic, it really ought to be mentioned in your question, so that we all start on the same page.

From the comments on your question, I infer that you're talking about leaf pulling, not "pruning" per se. (Or if you are talking about some particular kind of pruning, please please edit your question to say so! Don't just argue in the comments — edit your question until it reflects the thing you actually mean to say!)

Leaf pulling is done just after flowering, when fruit set is complete so you won’t disturb the pollination process. In the southern hemisphere, it is round about middle to end November and in the northern hemisphere in May (off course this may vary from climate to climate).

Leaf pulling will improve cosmetic quality by minimizing the bruising of the grape skin from leaves scratching its surface. For wine and table grapes, it will improve the overall grape and wine quality, as the vines are using the nutrients available more efficiently. ... [It] will allow the vines to dry off much quicker after rain or heavy dew and thus will make the vines less susceptible to the spread of fungal diseases.

These benefits all seem like things a viticulturist would notice pretty quickly — say, within 10 or 20 years of their first exposure to any fungal disease, i.e., within 10 or 20 years of the invention of viticulture, which as farmersteve says, goes back some 10,000 years. So we should expect to see the invention of leaf-pulling some 9,980 years ago. :)

Indeed, leaf-pulling is explicitly mentioned in Cato's De Agricultura:

Ubi vinea frondere coeperit, pampinato. Vineas novellas alligato crebro, p50 ne caules praefringantur, et quae iam in perticam ibit, eius pampinos teneros alligato leviter corrigitoque, uti recte spectent. Ubi uva varia fieri coeperit, vites subligato, pampinato uvasque expellito, circum capita sarito.

When the vine begins to form leaves, thin them. Tie up the young vines at frequent intervals to keep the stems from breaking, and when they begin to climb the props tie the tender branches loosely, and turn them so that they will grow vertically. When the grapes begin to turn, tie up the vines, strip the leaves so as to expose the grapes, and dig around the stocks.

Cato's De Agricultura was written circa 160 B.C., by which point viticulture had been around for millennia. The Greeks also had several words for artificial trellises and stakes used to train grapevines — e.g. the χάρακας "vine-props" of Aristophanes' Acharnians circa 425 B.C.

There's reason to think maybe the Greeks might not have practiced leaf-pulling as much as the Romans: leaf-pulling reduces fungal rot and increases light to the fruit-bearing part of the vine, but also increases the risk of sun damage in sunny climes. Rome's latitude is 42°N; Athens' is 38°N. And just to complicate matters, the latitude of the 6000-year-old Areni-1 winery in Armenia is 40°N — right in the middle! So I won't hazard a guess as to whether the Greeks or the Armenians practiced leaf-pulling; but we do know that Cato wrote about it.

To summarize:

  • Viticulture probably goes back some 10,000 years
  • Industrial viticulture dates to 4000 B.C. (Areni-1) or older
  • Vine training probably goes back at least that far
  • Leaf-pulling probably goes back at least that far
  • A specific technical vocabulary for vine training dates to 425 B.C. or older
  • Technical documentation of leaf-pulling dates to 160 B.C. or older
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    Nice answer but you mention that leaf pulling is done after flowering. Traditionally that is true, but new research is showing that pulling before flowering could aid in pollination and keep bud necrosis to a minimum. Grapes are self fertile pollen stays in the flower. Pulling is done for two reasons. Improve color and flavor AND the biggest one is to keep mildew problems away. In rainy northern climates, drying out the grapes as soon as possible is paramount to keeping mildew out of the clusters. Never head about scratching the grapes. I have been growing pinot noir for 20 years. Commented Apr 3, 2019 at 14:36

Not an answer on pruning leaves but the first to prune vinees: Recently read a book "Wine and War" (researched in France) It happened, they said, in 345 A.D when St Martin, dressed in animal skins and riding a donkey, went out to inspect some of the vineyards that belonged to his monastery near Toirs in the Lois Valley. Long story short he had tethered the donkey and on his return hours later the donkey had been munching the vines down to the trunk. Next year the monks were surprised to see the vines grew back abundantly and produced the best grapes!! The lesson was not lost on the monks and as centuries passed, pruning became part of the winegrowers routine.

  • It's interesting how the book you quote states about the tradition of St. Martin, "He was a lover of wine and had done much over the years to educate monks about the latest viticultural practices..." The monks would have learned about pruning from Cato, etc. But most importantly the monks would have imitated their pruning from Bible examples (John 15:1-3, Leviticus 25:3-4, Isaiah 5:6, etc.). The donkey story was an example of even extreme pruning being sometimes beneficial.
    – Jess
    Commented Aug 17, 2022 at 23:52
  • That’s the story I heard that influence the question. Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 21:33
  • Since the Gospel of John mentions pruning of the vines, it is more likely that the story of the St. Martin of Tours has more to do with grape cluster pruning (i.e. removal) than with conventional leaf, shoot thinning, etc. Still today St. Martin is considered the spiritual father of wine in France. His viticulture practices have given us such widely recognized grapes as Chenin Blanc and Chenin Noir, which he cultivated from wild grapes. According to tradition, Martin also brought us Vouvray which he himself planted and preferred.
    – Jess
    Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 19:16

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