Friday, November 2, 2012

The Vineyard Year

It is November, and the grape growers in my family are ready for a break after the long, arduous harvest of this fall. Unfortunately, we have very little downtime in a vineyard the size of ours. With smaller vineyards, growers can take most of the winter off. With much larger vineyards, corporations use machinery or legions of migrant workers to help them. We, however, only have ourselves and a few local teens who help us out. Here, in a nutshell, is our year. It tends to consume every weekend. Rarely is there a weekend when no one is in the vineyard.

Pruning – This is when the canes of dormant vines are removed (cane pruning) or significantly trimmed to within 2” (spur pruning)of the cordon. Pruning allows all the energy to go into forming new growth in the spring. The goal is to have all vines pruned by bud break.

Shoot thinning – After bud break, the vine will start producing many new shoots from which grapes will emerge. We want to limit the number of shoots to concentrate the energy to a few strong shoots.

Shoot positioning – The vine doesn’t know that growers prefer that all shoots go straight up. We must train them with special notions such as tapes and rubber bands for just that purpose.

Fruit removal – As in shoot thinning, our goal is to concentrate a plant’s energy on a limited number of clusters per shoot.

Leaf pulling – With warm days and occasional showers, leaves tend to suddenly sprout everywhere. The goal in pulling is to protect the fruit from the harshest sun while still providing airflow and enough sunlight for ripening.

Hedging – We cover our vines with bird netting (see below), so we need to hedge the tops of all vines to keep them clear of the netting wire.

Netting – Our particular farm happens to be along a major north-south flyway. As the birds fly over us, they see an opportunity to refuel. We have seen blocks of the vineyard stripped of grapes by birds. As a result, we cover all our vines with very large nets.

Lateral removal – The vines are always looking for ways to grow and expand. We, however, prefer that they only concentrate on ripening the grapes. Lateral shoots are like a distraction, and we try to remove them.

Harvest – Before the actual harvest, we clean the clusters of any bad fruit. We also try to remove leaves to help the harvesters find and access all the clusters easily. All at once, we canvas the varietal and snip off the fruit before placing them into lugs (ventilated plastic containers).

Net removal – The final big job in the year is to remove all those acres of nets and then store them until next summer.

Downtime – This is not an official term, but one I made up. It’s essentially the time between the last harvest and when the vines go dormant. This year, we expect about six weeks.

Since we are a young vineyard and are still expanding our fields, our downtime tends to be spent working on residual planting activities in new blocks of vines. We might be found running wire for trellises or prepping land for spring plantings. Once we are more established, we will have less of that. We also use the time to do maintenance on fencing, tractors, and other machinery. The house on the property could also use some maintenance as could the Christmas trees that we grow in adjacent fields.

This list is very generalized. The details can differ among regions, varietals, and farmers. I don’t include any irrigation because we are a dry (non-irrigating) farm except during severe drought. I also don’t include the spraying of fungicide (necessary in this humid climate) or regular mowing to keep the land between the rows passable and the grasses from competing with the vines.