Seasons of the Vineyard No. 3 - The In-Between Work

Seasons of the Vineyard No. 3 - The In-Between Work
by Mary Beth Vogelzang

Over the years of farming the vineyard, I’m surprised that I have begun to categorize the stages. I am ecstatic with the first new growth and. filled with awe as the grapes move to the perfection of ripeness and burst with the juice and aromas of harvest. However, now, we are in the in between, or as I have come to call it, The Manipulation. This is the time when the activity of man, not plant or nature, is evident. It is the time of hard work to enhance production and quality. I often shake my head and wonder why we go through such lengths and loss of crop; but by harvest, when we proudly pass on premium grapes to our wonderful winemakers, I understand.

Most people can get their heads around a vine growing, producing fruit and being harvested. However, unique to grape vines is the manipulation or “pruning” of the vine to help it find the perfect balance. The balance between producing premium fruit and keeping a healthy plant life, between fruit and leaf is critical to the success of the vineyard. Each of the “manipulations” is carried out by a crew of men or women, making separate and purposeful passes through the entire vineyard for a specific goal.

Each vineyard is different but below are the basic passes of a premium vineyard:

Pass 1. Shoot Assessment: A shoot grows to support the clusters. A crew will assess the length of the shoot.. If it is a short shoot the crew will cut off clusters to bring down the cluster count to zero or one. A long shoot (that reaches to a second or third wire strung above) can support up to approximately three clusters.

Pass 2. Leaf pulling. Crews will pull leaves from one side of the vine to allow the clusters exposure of dappled sunlight. Not enough sunlight and the clusters will not ripen. Too much sunlight and the clusters may get sunburn.

Pass 3. Tucking. Wires will be vertically extended above the fruiting wire and the branches tucked between the wires to insure a vertical shoot position. This is also a process that keeps the leaves away from the cluster, giving the sun advantage.

Pass 4. Hedging. When the shoots begin to grow above the top wire, the tractor will pass through and cut off the tops of the shoots to eliminate their falling back over the vine.

Past 5. Green drop. When veraison (ripening of the grape) begins, the crew will pass through to take a look at the consistency of the coloration. If the clusters are decidedly behind, they are cut off so they do not affect the quality of the other clusters and ultimately, the juice.

It is indeed a precious time of year. The sounds of work fill the air: the soft voices of the women pulling leaves and chatting with each other of family, the sharp clicking of the shears descending upon the discard clusters as they sadly fall to the ground, and the muted chugging of the tractor as it moves behind the rows; while hedging those last shoots to insure the gift of sunlight before harvest. The manipulation is our time to contribute and be a meaningful partner in the growth and perfection of this beautiful fruit.