Sheldon Haynie
December 29, 2011 | Vineyards | Sheldon Haynie

Out here in the fields... a tale of three vineyards

Every winter vineyards (and orchards) need to be pruned, to remove last years growth and make way for this years growth and fruit. Winegrapes grow on canes that bud from last years canes, so pruning is a bit of an art, to leave sufficient buds to grow the canes you want, without overburdening the vine with too many shoots. 

In an established vineyard, this is usually pretty mechanical, you either have "spurs" of old wood on an established cordon,  that you select one or more canes, or you have a new cane, which you tie to become the new cordon, of or which all of the new canes will grow. If you have headpruned (no cordon) then you prune to establish spurs that over time become the gnarly arms that give old vineyards the spooky look they have in winter. 

Its primarily hand and arm work, but the whole body gets a workout, reaching, bending, stretching to reach the far side of the vine.  Repetitive stress is a real problem, on a given vine you may make a cut about every 2-3 inches, and there is more than a mile of vines in a modern acre of vineyard. Figure 25k cuts an acre and you should be able to cordon prune an acre in about 8 hrs if you are moving along. There's a tool for that, this year we invested in a mutual Christmas present, an Electrocoup FS3010 pruner 

This tool is made near Toulouse France, by a company that started in the early 80s and it comes with a backpack battery vest

and accessories, so that you can prune for over 8 hours of "autonomy" as the website states. This solves the hand and wrist strain, but does not solve the arm and shoulder (and whole body) work of getting this bad boy in position to snip. Watching it clip through 1 3/4" vines, tree branches etc gives a healthy respect for the possibilities if something should go amiss. Fortunately there's a glove for that, a shiny styling metallic silver glove. (Because ze are ze French? ) 

which is wired to the cutter (secatuer in French) which stops the cut if it comes in contact. So there you are looking something like a cross between a traffic cop and Michael Jackson,  snipping away, and its really fast and productive, though I suspect some of the romance is gone. I was able to prune an acre of Merlot (our 2014) in the Soli Deo Gloria vineyard with it, and my hands were fine, my arms, back and legs told me that I was working hard. 

The next vineyard that got my attention was a new one to us, that we assumed management after harvest. As yet unamed, its about a block away, or a few minutes on the trusty Kubota with the spray rig.  As the trusty Kubota was on its trailer and I didn't want to "waste daylight" getting it off, I took the next choice, the '07 Boxster. I suppose that there's something romantic about pulling up to a vineyard in a roadster, but hey I was there to do a job, so out I climbed and took my loppers saw and the Secatuers in hand and went out to remove the excess from this vineyard.  

The story it seems is that the former owner had the help of his father to tend to the vines, but as time took its toll, he had begun pruning them himself. There were vines with 2 trunks, and even a few with 3, some trunks had high cordons, some had low cordons, some had both. In consultation with George "the Farmer" of Thomson Vineyards 

we had concurred that the low cordons needed to go. There I was with 21" loppers, a pruning saw and a vineyard that had not been properly pruned in years. It was lots of bending, kneeling and generally ugly work, hacking out the excess. Over the course of three days, the vines were groomed for later pruning, and the vineyard made ready. This vineyard will be pruned in February, as it sits on the valley floor, and will have later frosts, than the SDG vineyard which is on the hillside. 

The last vineyard is the source for our Colombard, in West Gilroy's winery row. These are 30 -40 yr old head pruned dry farmed vines, definitely old school. Today's task was to pre-prune with a headge trimmer (yes a hedge trimmer) to reduce the cane length for later final pruning. Envision dances with hedge trimmer, akin to a ballet, where in you cut upwards, over the top and downwards, and take a step and repeat 5 times per vine, 33 vines per row, 13 rows. Suffice it to say, my aged body was on strike halfway through, and negotiating for sustenance and libations. 

We agreed to provide a treat if it went back to work and we finished, leaving only the final pruning on 4 1/2 acres and the installation of yet another vineyard on the East Side of San Martin between now and March. 


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