Early leaf removal (ELR) applied in the grapevine cluster zone at bloom or pre-bloom (PB) is a vineyard practice commonly utilized to reduce fruit disease and yield. In addition, the literature reports that ELR enhances fruit quality, however, little research has deciphered the potential factors regulating this response. In this work, the objective was to understand whether the increase in fruit quality in response to manual or mechanical leaf removal is due to changes in fruit-zone microclimate, vine physiology, or ripening/stress related hormone biosynthesis. In ‘Merlot’ (Vitis vinifera L.) vines, 60% of leaf area was removed from shoots in three ways: 1) manual removal of 5 leaves (PB-MA), 2) mechanical removal (PB-ME), and 3) simulated mechanical removal (PB-SIM), which was implemented by removing the distal portion of leaves on the first eight nodes to understand whether PB-ME improves fruit quality via enhanced microclimate conditions or plant stress. Yield was reduced in PB-ME and PB-SIM, while total soluble solids was not different at harvest; meaning that ELR decreased the partitioning of carbohydrates to fruit. Anthocyanins and flavonols were enhanced by PB-ME, however neither ABA nor ethylene were similarly altered. Instead, the leaf area at nodes above the fruit-zone was lower in PB-ME compared to non-defoliated ones, which increased post-veraison fruit temperature (+2.8 °C). These parameters correlated with anthocyanins at harvest. In conclusion, skin phenylpropanoid concentrations were influenced by canopy density above the fruit-zone. Additionally, ripening-related phytohormones were not involved in the response of phenylpropanoid biosynthesis in vine subjected to ELR.
- Fruit quality