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FROM THE VINEYARD

JULY 2017

At Long Meadow Ranch, we embrace history and quality over what’s trendy. However, it is imperative we are an economically viable company, otherwise we won’t remain a company for very long, right? After 25 years or so, a vineyard gets to the end of its usable life. Most growers remove these vineyards and replant new vines.

In an effort to preserve the aging historic vines in our Bear Canyon cabernet sauvignon vineyard and maintain profitability, we decided to modernize the trellising and pruning method.

In 1991, when we were considering budwood for the Bear Canyon Vineyard, we were looking for examples of cabernet sauvignon vineyards that produced wines that were elegant, balanced and genuinely a complement to food. We have been guided by these wine profile goals since our inception.

We were attracted to the wines produced by Heitz from the Bella Oaks Vineyard owned by Barney and Belle Rhodes. Up to that time, very few wines in the industry were vineyard-designated (the first was Martha's Vineyard also produced by Heitz), so finding expressions of wine characteristics from a single vineyard was very difficult. We chose to take budwood from Bella Oaks because of the distinctive, balanced style reflected in the vineyard-designated wines made by Heitz. We were also influenced by the dedication to fine food and balanced wines by Barney and Belle.

Similarly, we were very attracted to the wines from Jordan. The 1984 vintage was especially a favorite of Ted’s, because of its elegance and expression of Bordeaux-like character (moderate alcohol, good acid--not flabby, balanced--both oak and grape, tannins, etc.). Andre Tchelistcheff had consulted with Jordan and their style objective was to become the "Margaux of California." Andre clearly had influenced their vineyard selections. So, when we had a chance to select budwood from their top vineyard, we jumped on the opportunity. Moreover, Margaux was a favorite of Ted’s among the great wines from Bordeaux.

We have two blocks (J for Jordan and R for Rhodes) in Bear Canyon with unique field selected budwood that have been used to make our wines for decades. As you can imagine, these blocks are very important to Long Meadow Ranch.

In 2013, we started a discussion about grape quality between cane and spur pruned vines and decided to converted 4 rows of Block J to cane pruning as a long term trial to evaluate the success of this kind of change. As with just about anything, we have learned many things about farming grapes over the last 20+ years and determined that our trellising system also needed to change in order to promote even light and proper canopy management. Harvest 2014 was the first year we had fruit from the modernized pruning method and trellising.

To test the effects of these changes, we made wine from the 4 cane pruned rows and wine from the neighboring 4 rows of spur pruned vines. They were farmed exactly the same way and experienced the same conditions in the vineyard. The winemaking was also done exactly the same - barrels, cooperage, yeast, aging, etc. - so the only difference was the vine the fruit came from. Barrel tastings were done regularly to check progress and, in 2016, we did a blind tasting with our winemaking and winegrowing teams to understand the difference between the 2 wines. The result? The cane pruned vineyard wines were more delicate and fruity with true varietal and vintage characteristics, as well as lower alcohol, all resulting in a better style fit for our wines.

With these results in mind, in February 2017, we converted all of the dormant vines in Block J to cane pruning and changed the trellises in all the rows. This is a lot of work (it took our entire vineyard crew 2 months to complete the change).

First, we pre-pruned all of the vines to just the 4 best canes closest to the trunk.

After we removed all of the canes, except the ones that will be used as next year’s fruiting wood, we had to pull all of the trellis catch wires and the old cross arms (we recycled them, of course).

Then, we carefully removed the cordons as close to the last remaining spur with our canes as possible.

After the cordons are removed, we immediately painted the cuts with a fungicide. Approximately 24 to 48 hours after the cuts are made, the vines secrete a sticky sap-like goo as a natural defense against pests and disease. This goo makes a scab over the cut and pushes out anything that’s unhealthy for the vine.

Next, we laid down the new canes on the fruiting wire. We always want these canes to be around the thickness of a #2 pencil with 10 buds on each. This will also increase our fruit production, because now we have 40 shoots per vine.

We changed the trellising, so that we can better manage the canopy. When the vineyard was originally planted, it only had short trellis stakes, a system also known as California Sprawl where the shoots just fell over the trellis. When the vineyard was updated in 2006, we added the taller stakes to help the higher shoots stay upright. However, this configuration did not provide consistent light conditions - sometimes too much sun and sometimes too much shade. These trellises also only had one wire that couldn’t really hold the canopy properly, so the shoots could fall to the left and right. We couldn’t achieve optimum balance with this system.

Our new trellis system is now modernized with the tools available to us today. We reused the tall stakes and added new cross arms at different heights (12”, 16”, 20” and 24”).

We added more wires, so now there are 2 for each height and side of the vine to keep the shoots from shifting. This also allowed us to open up the center for better canopy management.

The new end posts were installed with with a really neat tractor attachment. You know how we feel about big tractors!

The final step in this process is to lower the head height of the vines. Some are taller than the fruiting wire, so they have to bend in a wonky way to reach the fruiting wire.

We want all of the fruit to be in a 12” window, so that it is consistent with uniform coverage, brix, pH, etc. This consistency results in even ripeness and delicious wine. Moving the head height is a 3 to 4 year process that we are trying to jumpstart naturally by encouraging a new cane to grow further down the trunk. We do this by scraping off some bark to allow light into the trunk to stimulate growth.

Once the new cane is established, we can remove the old trunk and voila!

We completed converting the 3 acre J Block this year and we will do the same work in the R Block when the vines are dormant. This year, we also converted Blocks 7 and 8 (6.5 acres) in Anderson Valley to new trellising. The vines were already cane pruned, however, the canes were stacked vertically (one on top of the other) instead horizontally (side by side). This configuration made for a big clump of leaves and fruit that were susceptible to mildew. In 2015, we converted 20 acres of sauvignon blanc. So, as you can see, our long term redevelopment plan is in full swing!

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From the Vineyard

February 2016

Vineyard pruning is the practice of removing last year’s growth from the vines. We manipulate the vine to give us the fruit quality, quantity, and light environment we want for the growing season. Pruning is the most important vineyard operation all year, because it casts the die for the season’s upcoming crop. We prune to create balance between vine vigor and fruit load. Pruning takes place annually when our vines are “sleeping” (aka the dormant season) and before bud break to promote growth and prevent disease. This timing is important, because all the nutrients have moved to the root from the leaves.

Pruning methods vary based on trellising. We trellis our vines in two different ways: open lyre and bilateral cordon. Therefore, they’re pruned differently too: cane and spur pruning.

Guyot Style Cane Pruning

To get started, scope out all of the shoot growth from last year and choose the four best canes to be laid down as the new fruiting canes. We’re looking for healthy canes that will promote ideal fruit orientation with open clusters, even light (sun and shade) and airflow. Remember, all vines are unique.

Next, remove last year’s fruiting canes with all of the unchosen canes attached.

Cut the length of the new fruiting cane. Typically, this is 8 to 10 buds in length. In a perfect world, each bud will have one shoot with two clusters.

Carefully massage the chosen cane (you’ll hear a little crackle), wrap once around the fruiting wire (bottom wire), and tie down the end.

Move on to the next vine!


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Bilateral Spur Pruning

Look at the prior year’s shoot growth and choose the best oriented canes with the ideal wood diameter (a little bigger than a #2 pencil) and the healthiest looking buds on each spur.

The first bud on each cane is called the basal bud and it has the least amount of fruit. Count 2 clear buds (can fit your pruning shears underneath) above this and cut the cane. Ideally, the remaining clear buds are pointing upright and not crowding each other.

Repeat with every spur on the vine, then move on to the next vine!

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