Welcome to the first edition of the Vineyard Woods Rent-a-Row blog. Today we take a look at what goes on in the vineyard throughout the winter while the vines are resting. The growing season in the Grand River Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area) lasts about 6 months. What goes on the other six months in the vineyard?
The pictures above from left to right depict the vineyard in October right after harvest, early November as the leaves had changed colors from green to yellow (and our first dusting of snow), and mid November right before the vines lose their leaves for the winter. Take a look at the base of the vines and the difference in the pictures on the left and the right. Prior to the winter months, we "hill up" the vines to help protect them during the winter. And by we, I mean our vineyard manager Matt Meineke of M Cellars, who I will be referring to many times during the Rent-a-Row blog. Matt is a gifted vineyard manager/winemaker in the area and we are lucky to have him tend to our property. A disc attachment on his tractor helps cut the ground and place the dirt up over the base of the vine for the winter.
During winter the vineyard crews work (often in terrible conditions) to prune the vines. The pruned vines are left in between rows and when it dries up, the clippings are chopped up and mixed in with the soil in between the rows.
The winter pruning process is two fold. There are various pruning and tying methods but I'll be explaing what we do only. All but 3-4 canes are pruned from last years growth on the first pass through. This is very labor intensive, for an average row in our vineyard it takes 3 hours to prune. Our rows vary in size, but generally there are 100-140 vines in each row. The "winning canes" are medium in size, not too large (buds too far apart) and not too small (too thin and buds too close together). A general rule of thumb is to keep 3-4 canes that are about the thickness of a no. 2 pencil.
Another pass is made once the entire vineyard is pruned and the canes are tied to the trellis system (fancy vineyard talk for wires) like you can see in the picture on the right. From here, the vineyard is ready for spring and summer. A relatively cool start to the growing season isn't all bad as it delays bud break and lessens the risk of frost. Once it warms up, the vineyard does best if it stays warm.
This is how the journey of the 2018 vintage starts.