the stories about the grape vines
From dirt to glass, learn about all of the steps that grapes and grape vines take from getting from the vine to your glass, the history of the grapes, the growing seasons, harvest, fermentation, barrels, bottling to your glass. We even talk to the wine makers about their stories and the journey from dirt to glass. Here we talk about the Vineyard and the Vineyard Management of the vines. From Trellising to Clones, and everything in between.
Summer in the vineyard is the start of the busy season. The vines are growing and there is lots of farming work to do. As the vines start to climb they need to be trained and often cut back to allow for the proper number of clusters to develop the best potential of flavor in the grapes and here positioning is important also, for easy of picking, reducing rot and even ripening.
Trellising – or not
Around the world there are many different versions of trellising grapes. Grapes are after all a vine and they will crawl where they can, so providing them with a trellis allows them a place to climb and stay off the ground. Edna Valley Vineyard in SLO (San Luis Obispo) wine country has a detailed demonstration garden out front displaying some of the various trellising methods that they use on their property.
These vines are pruned with about 8 permanent branches around the central trunk. When they are pruned they are usually taken back to one or two buds each. So per vine you are getting 8 to 16 bunches of fruit.
These vines are typically wide-spaced so they are good in dry farmed areas where competition for water between plants is great. Typically a head trained vineyard will have 1/3 the number of grape vines as a trellised vineyard.
With some varieties like Grenache this method allows for more air and light for the grapes as the canes grow upward and then fan out.
Simple trellising on a pergola, like you would see for flowering vines in a garden are used in Northwest Spain in Galicia, where there are lush green valleys and the weather is wet and cloudy and feels a bit more like Ireland than Spain.
Vineyards here in the region called Rias Baixas on the coast use a Parra to keep fruit hanging free under the vines where they get airflow that helps keep them from mildew and mold. A Parra is a wine trellis anchored by granite posts. They are up to 7 feet high creating a ceiling-like canopy.
This makes for a different harvesting method, instead of squatting or kneeling to pick fruit, here workers must stand on buckets to reach the bunches.
Single and Double
In this method, which is decided before planting one or two of the cordons come out from the main trunk and are trained down the trellis wire. If there are two cordons they will go in opposite directions on the wire.
Vine spacing on a single cordon may be much closer. This allows for more stress on the vine which is areas with plentiful water and nutrients can make for more concentrated wines. There is typically another wire or two above the wire with the cordons where you can tuck the growing foliage to keep it up and off the ground.
This makes a single row the width of the trunk.
Vertical Shoot Positioning (VSP)
This method allows you to continue up! It allows you to move the shoots to keep them off of the ground and disease free and to keep the fruit hanging in the same area height wise with the shoots above. This allows for easy thinning of the grape vines if needed to help ripen the fruit.
Geneva Double Curtain
This divides the canopy horizontally, so the trunk is at the center and the cordons go out to each side, not down the row but perpendicular to it. So this triples the width of your row. If you stood at the end of the row, you would see a “Y”, trunks at the center and cordons going out to either side on the wires. Typically the vines then hang down on either side, ie curtain.
Single and Double Guyot trellising
The same basic idea as above except it is the cane that you are training not the cordon. When these vines are pruned in the fall one (or two if double) spur and cane are left.
Happy grape vines will shoot toward the sky. Happy vines like where they are, they are growing and have everything they need. Sadly happy vines do not make tasty grapes. Vines push out fruit for one reason, to propagate.
Tasty bright red sweet fruit that birds and other animals can see and smell are the vines ride out of town. The animals eat the grapes and head out elsewhere to poop out the seeds and a new vine can grow. So only vines looking to get away will make extra tasty grapes.
So if they get too happy they get trimmed back so that they will put their energy into fruit. This means trimming the canopy and shoot thinning so there are only a few shoots per vine producing bunches of grapes.
A tractor with a trimmer might be brought in to “hedge” the vines, keeping their energy where we want it, on the berries, when they start to grow to vigorously up beyond the trellis.
As the vines start to grow they will get vigorous and bushy. Shoots are thinned if they don’t have fruit, the are coming out of the cordon the wrong direction (out the side rather than up) or if they are too close to a better shoot.
Shoot Positioning (tucking)
As the shoots are thinned, the ones that are kept are trained typically upward (that VSP idea) there are guide wires above that the shoots can be trained between to keep them spread out. This helps keep down mold, mildew or fungus, as the grapes get better access to sun and airflow.
Leaf Pulling (leafing)
This happens after fruit set. Leaves are pulled from around the bunches to allow in the sunlight and the air. Typically this is done on the side of the grape vine where the morning sun will hit it, ripening the grapes but not burning them as the later day sun would do.
The leaves on top are left to protect the grapes from the hottest mid-day sun.
This is the change of color in the grapes, the skins thin as the juice sweetens and the grapes plump. In red grapes the pigment develops, in white grapes the skin becomes more transluscent. This is the magical time when the vine is concentrating all it’s energy on making delicious sweet fruit. The chlorophyll that made up those bright green hard little berries is replaced by nutrients and sugars and the grapes start to develop their aromas (to woo in those birds). The acid falls as the sugars rise now we are getting closer to harvest. Veraison means you have 30 to 70 days until harvest, depending on the weather and variety.
Dropping Fruit (thinning fruit)
As harvest gets closer whole clusters of grapes may be cut off and dropped. This can be done to either concentrate the current fruit and/or to keep all of the bunches ripening evenly. You can drop green fruit here that won’t ripen at the same time. In smaller vineyards where you are hand picking, you might leave these and just do multiple passes while harvesting, if you have the manpower and the time. Some growers also will drop fruit while shoot thinning immediately after fruit set, but typically this is done after the fruit is at least 75% ripened.
Clones & Rootstock
Michael Larner has helped to champion Syrah in Ballard Canyon. He got the ball rolling on the Ballard Canyon AVA in Santa Barbara.
We spoke with Michael last year about the Syrah planted on Larner Vineyard. We had discussed the different rootstocks that they chose for the vineyard and then went deeper into the Syrah clones that were grafted to those various rootstocks.
There are 23 acres of Syrah planted at Larner Vineyard, broken into 11 blocks of around 2 acres each. With his 3 root stocks he pairs a Syrah clone, so he has 11 different mixes of clone/root stock.
You can taste some of Michael Larner‘s exceptional wines at their Los Olivos Tasting Room at 2900 Grand Avenue.
For more on the wines of Santa Barbara visit Santa Barbara Vintners.
Blending a monovarietal Syrah from different Syrah clones
For his Estate Syrah he has a blend of Clones 877, Estrella, 174 and Clone 3. Each of these clones brings something different to the wine, the Estrella brings a Velvety softness, the 174 pulls up mid-palate strength, and the 877 and Clone 3 give you full body. So in essence he is making a mono-varietal blend. Add to this the variation in rootstock, in the placement in the vineyard and you have quite a bit of variety.
A little geekiness on these Syrah clones
Estrella: Gary Eberle of Eberle wines in Paso Robles planted suitcase cuttings from Chapoutier in Hermitage (in the Rhone Valley in France) This clone has become one of the most widely planted in the Central Coast region.
174: This came in from France in 1995. It is a low yield clone which gives balanced aromatic fruit.
877: This French clone brings in tannins that hit the mid palate.
Each year one of the clone/rootstock variations will stand out. This is where the Reserve wines come from, and the Dedication which is all Clone 3. But all the blocks are treated as if they could be stand alone wines. These stand alone wines would be a wonderful expression of one thing…mid palate tannins or velvety softness.
The blending of these is what creates the depth and layers within the wine. The idea is to pull together the ultimate expression of Syrah in this vineyard to make a complete wine that fires on all synapses.