Ari's Vineyard Blog II
At the end of March the first signs of life had started to show in the vines. Sap was flowing, and the canes that had been painstakingly pruned during the winter months started to soften and bend, ready to be tied to the fruiting wire. Pruning was a very cool experience, probably my favorite job last season. You see the vine completely differently when there is no foliage on the canes. Siting good options for next year’s growth, I was taught to choose canes that were at least the thickness of a pencil, as anything skinnier would likely not be able to push the required energy through the cane to produce enough leaves to ripen a cluster of grapes. I was also taught not to choose wood that was too thick, with buds spaced too far apart. This was referred to as 'bull wood.' Apparently growth from bull wood tends to be vegetative, focusing more of its energy on producing foliage than grapes. This along with proper positioning and considering the level of vigor appropriate for each individual plant made pruning a bonding experience with each individual vine. Though the job was slow and cold, it was definitely fun, and I am excited to go back to the rows that I pruned to see how my choices affect the vines this year.
After we finished pruning the vineyard, a small crew was assembled to pass through every row to tie down the chosen canes. This was very satisfying because it is one of those jobs where you can look back on what was accomplished that day and really see the results of your efforts. Over the two weeks that were spent combing through the rows, grasses and various other plants started emerging from the ground, and before long things went from brown to green. It never ceases to amaze me how fast seasons change in the Okanagan. One day it feels as though everything is still dormant and dead, the next day life springs forth from the ground and falls from the sky. Buds on the grapes had started to swell and we knew that we didn't have much time before we would be making our second pass of the spring through the rows to start dis-budding.
Through my time in the vineyard it has become clear to me that virtually every job with the vine serves to direct the flow of energy in the plant. Dis-budding is a process of removing buds from the trunks and crown to allow the plant to focus its growth on the buds that will bear fruit. Part of this job that I find very engaging is training next year's canes and replacement trunks. At Summerhill Vineyard we have a few blocks of older vines with thick gnarly trunks, and sometimes these plants don't seem to be able to push enough energy through the old wood to reach the desired destination. The process of training a new trunk rejuvenates the vine. We choose a sucker (a shoot that is growing from the base of the trunk) that is sturdy and growing straight up. If over the course of the season, this shoot is nurtured and trained, and all goes well, next season there may be an option to completely chop the old wood out, making way for a fresh start. It really is one of the more satisfying moments of pruning when you can take out a bunch of aged wood and allow the plant to breathe. I always felt that the vines were thanking me when I was able to rejuvenate them.
We got through dis-budding the vineyard just after May long weekend, which was absolutely perfect, because we are planting out many new vines on the farm this year and the planting weather has been ideal. We have started with inter-planting our blocks that are already established, just to fill in any holes there might be. So far we have planted Riesling and Muscat, and we still have Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to go. After this we will be planting two new fields that I am personally very excited about. We are introducing a new varietal into the Summerhill portfolio called Gruner Veltliner. This Austrian varietal is known for its strong minerality and distinct celery leaf note. The wines that I have had from this grape have been phenomenal, and since Austria's brother grape Zweigelt does so well here, I really wanted to bring it in and give it a go. It is fairly rare in the Okanagan, although I’ve heard that at least one other high-profile vineyard has planted it recently. I am eager to see what the Okanagan Valley can do for this varietal.
Before planting, we clip the ends of the roots to stimulate them, and soak the plants for several days to bring them out of dormancy. Once they are ready to plant, we inoculate them with mycorrhizal fungi to help the roots absorb nutrients from the soil, and to create symbiotic exchanges with other plants in the ground cover. We also supplement our planting holes with compost to ensure a healthy start. Unlike some annual crops, an immense amount of care must be taken when planting vines. If any of the roots are bent, pointing up in the planting hole, the vine is doomed. If the vine is not pressed into the soil just right, it will dry out easily and die. Growing grapes is truly a labor of love, as they are so sensitive and require so much care and patience, but it is so worth it when September rolls around and you are eating the tastiest fruit imaginable. It's no wonder people have stewarded these plants for so many generations.
This pretty well brings us up to speed on the activity thus far in the vineyard. Over the next few weeks we will be finished planting, and will be on to shoot-thinning and tucking. I will be following up with another update shortly to go over these activities and to talk a little bit about my experience with caring for young vines as well.