Hedging Our Bets
Ah, growth. We like it in the sales part of our business, but at this time of the year in the vineyard, we actually find ourselves combatting it. There are several things our vineyard crew does to manage the growth of the vines, all ultimately aimed at promoting grape quality.
The trellis structure in most of our vineyards is comprised of 8' posts, each of which is pounded 2' into the ground, and a series of wires, from the low wire to the fruiting wire (where grape growth is optimal) to upper wires, the highest of which is about 6' tall. All growth (leaves, rogue rootstock tendrils) below the low wire is "suckered" off, and the canes growing above the fruit are all tucked into the wires, to keep a clear tractor corridor and, in effect, to shape the vines into a kind of "solar panel" of exposed leaves which will do the vital job of collecting sunlight, energy which will be used to ripen the grapes.
Once the vines are suckered and tucked, the next step is hedging. During this process, using a hedge trimmer implement attached to our tractor, the sides of the vines are shaved by a series of four blades while the top of the vines are cut off at a height of 7'. It's actually rather mesmerizing to watch:
We purchased our particular hedger--a 2007 Italian Rinieri model--in 2017, and it definitely makes this part of vineyard management much easier.
Combatting vine growth enables us to control the canopy, better protect against disease (through spray penetration), promote air movement, and maximize the amount of light that gets to each leaf. The healthier the leaves, the better their ability to maximize the ripening of the grapes. Ripening growth trumps vegetative growth.
Of course, an ancillary benefit to all of the crew's vine management is the pleasing aesthetic result. Hedged vines remind me of cultivated European gardens, beautifully uniform pathways.
So far, it's been a pretty good grapegrowing year. The vines like the heat and the sun, and we'll pray for more of it. Beautiful sights like this remind us how lucky we are to manage the potential of the next vintage, in such a lovely place.
*Pix and video courtesy of Carl Helrich (the younger).