Winter in the Vineyard


Winter in the Vineyard. It’s the quiet time. Harvest is over, the cellar has done their thing and now the wine sits quietly and ages. The leaves in the vineyard turn red or golden and then fall, the vines are going dormant. They will get pruned mid winter, cutting back the vines to ensure a healthy crop for next year.

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Fertilizing the vineyard

Now is the time to compost the vineyard. Many vineyards save the unripe fruit and/or pomice (the skins from the grapes after the wine is pressed off) to use in their compost. Sometimes additional fertilizers will be added. (We like when they used the natural kind). Then the soil is disked to get the nutrients mixed in with the topsoil. This way when the rain comes the soil can soak up all these nutrients.

Grapevines and mustard growing in California's Napa Valley

Grapevines and mustard growing in California’s Napa Valley

Cover Crops

Cover crops will also be seeded, and coming up, likely making the vineyards look green in early winter. Cover crops help with keeping down erosion, adding nutrients back into the soil and help lure in those beneficial insects. Vineyards with sheep and other animals may have them out grazing in the vines. This helps keep the soil loose and adds natural fertilizer.


Pruning may seem simple. It’s just cutting back the vines of course, but there is strategy involved.

A weaker vine may be pruned more deeply than a healthy vine.

Pruning also has some determining factors for harvest. As you prune you determine the number of spurs per vine (the knubs left of the pruned branch which will bud out in the spring). Each spur will have a shoot in the spring that will probably hold 2 clusters. So when you prune you can calculate your crop size for the next vintage (of course accounting for frost, shatter, birds, rot and rain, LOL).

There is also the matter of timing in pruning. All the vines of a varietal that you prune at the same time are likely to ripen at about the same time. So spreading the pruning out a little, changes the pacing of your harvest. And Pruning will stimulate the vines causing them to push out earlier. So depending on your forecast for spring, you might hold your pruning until later.

The pruning typically removes most of the canes leaving just those spurs. As you prune you can see how the sap is flowing. The sap flows stronger as you close in on bud break

These vine cuttings can be used to graft to new rootstock to plant again.

Pruning is often done by hand and it is laborious work. There are Pre-pruning machines that can cut the larger parts of the canes back, making it easier to get in and finish the job by hand.

As winter ends we will head toward spring and as the sap starts to flow and we get closer to bud break the sleepless nights when freeze warnings happen. But that’s for Spring (and you thought spring was all bright greens and flowers?)


find out more of how the Seasons work in Wine country.

One thought on “Winter in the Vineyard

  1. Great article, we actually love being in wine country ‘off season’ almost as much as when the vines are in full bloom…makes you appreciate the process!

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