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Home Winemaking Seminar 2011, August

2011 Crop Update

A Typical Year in the Vineyard

The Way We Manage Our Vineyards to Maximize Quality


Notes Pertinent to the 2011 Harvest


Crop Update

The 2010-2011 winter was long, dreary and monotonously cold though, thankfully, not brutally cold. Bud check for primary bud mortality through the winter ranged from 7% for the hardier Aurore to 33% in the Muscat Ottonel. The winter gave way to a rather cool wet spring that hampered spring vineyard equipment activities for fear of rutting and compacting vineyard soils.  Thankfully we had completed our trellis repair work and applied an under the trellis combination of Roundup and Diuron herbicide in November of 2010. That herbicide application killed the roots of actively growing weeds and put a pre-emergent barrier down that suppressed most weed growth well into early June of 2011. In early May we had dried out enough to apply under-trellis follow-up herbicide applications which pretty much eliminated most under the row weed competition for the majority of the growing season. This was a very fortunate situation. Most of you are well aware of the hot dry growing season that we have recently experienced until the meager bits of rainfall and cooler temperatures we’ve experienced in the last week or so.

The vines got off to a robust start with all the spring moisture. With the lack of weed competition our vines never skipped a beat and continued normal growth through the prolonged hot dry spell with the exception of a few small spots which were eroded knoll situations. There have been reports of serious drought stress in several Finger Lakes vineyards. If there was a benefit to the hot dry spell, it would have been reduced disease pressure, allowing us to eliminate a couple of pesticide applications and still maintain clean vines.

The initiation of veraision in our vineyards was first observed in the variety Leon Millot on
28-July-11, perhaps as early a date as I can remember. As of the 8
th of August we were ~ 16 GDD ahead of the long term average and 4 GDD behind the 2010 season on that date.

With a bunch of warmish days, cool nights, a bit of moisture now and then and no calamities for the next 10-11 weeks, the potential exists for another stellar year for winemakers. In our lives 2 ½ months is but a mere blip but I can assure you that for farmers with a high potential crop in the balance, it can be a drawn-out affair of expectations - fraught with uncertainty, nervousness and worry.

As we should all know, after this world-wide, catastrophically eventful year, the course of events can be dramatically changed in a matter of seconds. We can hope, cross our fingers and say a few prayers but we won’t know the outcome until sometime in late October.

A Year in the Vineyard – an outline

In November of 1973 after my first 22 months in the vineyard we were visited by friends and after taking them on a brief tour of the area I remember one of them saying “Wow! This must be the life! A month of picking grapes and all you have to do is kick back and wait for the next crop.” I still shake my head – he didn’t have a clue.

For practical purposes the fiscal year in our vineyard is from Nov-1 to Oct-31 and for everyone out there I’d like to give you an idea of what a typical year is in the vineyard business is like. After catching your breath from the clean-up of the harvest just completed it might go something like this -

Allow time for reflection of the year past and changes needed for the year ahead.

o Note: the following jobs allow the canes to harden off and acclimate to the cooling late fall and early winter temperatures prior to pruning.

Trellis repair – reset posts as needed, replace broken posts and missing staples and mend broken wires.

Spot treat problem weed areas where appropriate and apply a pre-emergent.

Harvest some of nature’s bounty if you’re so inclined.

Take time to be with family and friends and give thanks for what we have.

Equipment maintenance – repair bins, change oil, do tune-ups, check equipment and schedule equipment repairs, get pruning tools ready to use . Break out your cold weather gear.

Get financial books in order

Begin pruning with the hardiest varieties this is a 4 month job and one of the most important tasks. Make sure you take a break or two. Do taxes. Leave the most valuable and most tender varieties for late Feb and Mar. Keep in mind that most of the time you’re pruning in the vineyard the temperature is 25oF or less – lots of fresh air!

Check for damaged primary buds after extreme cold events or before pruning moderately cold tender or tender varies.

Remove cut-out trunks from the vineyard and chop brush.

Pick-up or order supplies required for various tasks through the year

Begin tensioning trellis wires so you are ready to tie vines when the weather breaks

Attend the Grape Grower Conference mingle with other growers and friends make yourself smarter.

Hook-up the weed sprayer, check calibration and apply herbicides

Tie vines before bud break

Get vineyard sprayer hooked up and ready to use – check the calibration

Check bud-break and make a few mental notes.

Apply fertilizer as needed

Attend meetings throughout the growing season (make yourself smarter)

Apply pesticides as needed through the growing season keep good records. Keep the vines clean through the growing season to help optimize quality. Consider post harvest applications to help reduce carry-over to the next growing season

Bring up renewals where required, sucker renewal zone and trunks

Top sucker vines as needed

Check shoot growth and evaluate, adjust shoots as needed record what you did

Check cluster count and cluster thin as needed, record what you did.

As vines grow catch wires may need to be lifted or shoots positioned depending on the training system

Scouting vineyards for insect, disease and weeds through the growing season at appropriate intervals, react accordingly.

Monitor vines through the growing season especially during stressful situations such as extreme heat, excess moisture, drought or high pest pressure.

Take petiole and soil samples and submit for analysis

Competition can be good or bad - learning to manipulate competition and/or the vine to your advantage.

Sampling and tasting the fruit as harvest draws near – (note: if you know what the processor wants and work with them to meet their standards – you have produced a quality product).

Make sure your harvesting equipment and crew is ready to go.

Harvesting your effort.

Review petiole and soil analysis results and treat as indicated.

Take a deep breath, clean equipment, put things away and prepare for another year.

Managing Our Vineyards to Maximize Quality

We have committed our entire 21 acres and 30 varieties to be grown for the amateur winemaker and a few small premium wineries. We are not a highly mechanized operation – no mechanical pruning or hedging and little mechanical harvesting - each vine in every manual operation is given individual attention (we have 15,172 vine spaces). We have tried to give each variety the spacing, pruning and training methods we feel are best suited for them. As a result we have 5 row spacings, 5 vine spacings and are experimenting with 2 wider vine spacings for a very vigorous variety. We use 8 different training systems one of which is a proprietary system we use for Riesling and gewürztraminer. A 2 acre block of Riesling is a replicated planting with 4 clones and 5 different rootstocks, Chardonnay is on 3 different rootstocks. We are not against removing a variety, adding a variety or different clone, or replacing own-rooted vines with grafted plants if we can improve the canopy quality and/or give the customers something they want. I don’t consider the appearance of a training system to be the most important criteria, if I can intercept more sunlight and get good fruit exposure with less work with a different system. I do NOT believe that there is a one size or one method that fits all!   My philosophy as a vineyardist: matching a variety and it’s spacing to the site capacity and adopting a training system that allows the vine and its growth characteristics to optimally fill the trellis area and intercept a maximum amount of sunlight with a minimal amount of fiddling with the vine.

We believe and practice:

Growing healthy grape vines

Checking primary buds for cold mortality and adjusting accordingly

Utilizing double or multiple trunks depending on the variety

Renewing vine trunks on a regular basis

Maintaining an active renewal zone

Employing canopy management by:

o Balance pruning of every vine to its size and vine space with a range of .25 - .35 lb. of pruning per foot of row dependent on variety.

o Inspecting and adjusting shoot number and position as needed including regular trunk suckering.

o Providing or exceeding 12.4 cm2 of leaf area per gram of fruit.

o Inspecting and adjusting flower and/or fruit clusters as needed

Caring for the vines on an as needed basis

Maintaining vine and fruit health through and following harvest

Hand harvesting, as much as possible, as one of our near final steps of quality control by eliminating defective fruit and minimizing MOG (material other than grapes)

Supplying our customers with the highest grape and juice quality, supplies, service and advice we can give

All of this attention to detail requires a great deal of hand labor which is costly and as such we can’t be price competitive with highly mechanized bulk producers growing fewer varieties on

5-10 times the acreage. We strive to excel in quality, to provide a larger varietal selection in both grapes and juice, over a longer period of time which we hope our customers feel is value added. We appreciate your understanding and support especially in these trying economic times.

Notes Pertinent to the 2011 Harvest –plus a little reminiscing

Chelois - is finally becoming productive with the heaviest crop we have seen in several years after being decimated with Tomato ring-spot virus. We collected wood from a few healthy vines before they were infected with the virus and had buds grafted to nematode resistant rootstock. This was one of our favorite red hybrids making a quality stand alone wine and was the red component of our original Maiden’s Blush. If you are interested put in an order 1st come first served.

Gamay Noir –was chosen because of its productivity and fruit forward character. The real variety of the Beaujolais district. Because of its productive nature we are trying to fill a price niche between the high-end red hybrids and the red vinifera. One of our winemakers who bought some of last years first crop entered his wine in a wine and food pairing competition pairing his wine with chocolate and struck gold.

This reminds me of Bill Murphy (one of the past stalwarts of the AWS Rochester Chapter) to whom we gave our first meager crop of Carmine, the 1988 vintage. Bill crafted his grapes into a lovely red which won Best of Show in the 1989 AWS National Amateur Winemaker Competition in Pittsburgh. I dug out a picture yesterday as I was proof-reading to make sure of the location and the year. Lo and behold there was a newspaper clipping and a picture of Marcy with three of our winemakers Bill Murphy Best of Show, Dave Torso of Pittsburgh Best Vinifera and Carl Shively of Alfred, Best Sparkling Wine – everyone looked a lot younger. Marcy scanned the articles and has them for your viewing on the table in the back of the room. We have had many other winners from our group of winemakers. Sometimes we see our winemaker’s names in print and wonder if they used our grapes and juices. Some we know and probably many we don’t, so let us know!!

With nearly 40 years in the vineyard we have a lot of memories, many fond, a few bad and some sad. Good employees make for a great team. Our current primary vineyard team consists of 3 part time folks besides Marcy and me. The combined age of the whole crew is 319 years with a cumulative 152 years of vineyard experience for an average age of 63.8 years young and 30.4 years in the vineyard. We have a lot of fun and get a lot done but in reality we aren’t getting younger. It’s getting to be time to transfer the business to someone who hopefully will carry on and perhaps expand into the wine business and continue supplying folks like you with great grapes. We will continue to carry-on until this or something else happens.


May Your Wines Fall Bright!