Pruning decisions are perennial choices made by every vineyard manager across the globe. With a few years behind it now, Kerry’s Vineyard (www.kerrysvineyard.com) is graduating from vinifera adolescence and transitioning into adulthood.  As the vineyard solidifies into a relatively permanent yearly routine, a very important decision needs to be made regarding the training system of the vine.

The inherent nature of a vine and its chaotic growth patterns allows it to be sculpted into an infinite variety of somatic plant structures. There is no one right way to train a vine, but through cultural influence, local trends, experimental research and historical practices, certain standards of training have emerged. In Napa Valley, there are three main styles of pruning in the vineyard: head-trained, cordon, and cane pruning.

Head-training

Head-training

Cane

Cane

Cordon

Cordon

 

This year, in Kerry’s Vineyard, it is time to decide between either cordon or cane pruned training (if we wanted to go head trained, that decision must be made almost immediately after planting the vineyard, whereas the first few years of cordon or cane pruning are the same).

To put it simply, the arms of the vine that run parallel to the ground eventually produce many new shoots which will be the source of the individual grape clusters. In cordon training, the parallel arms are permanent structures on the vine and remain year after year whereas in cane pruning, the parallel arms are formed every year by leaving one-year old shoots leftover from the previous harvest.The main difference between the two styles is that cane pruning will yield slightly more fruit.

Because Cabernet Sauvignon is a lower yield variety and because Kerry’s Vineyard is on a hillside (as opposed to the valley floor), we have chosen to go with cane pruning for the Estate vineyard. As you drive up and down Hwy 29 and Silverado Trail in Napa Valley, you will see mostly cordon trained vineyards. Because these vineyards are planted on the valley floor, which is rich in nutrients and water, the vineyard managers are hoping to lower the yields of these vines by using the cordon training method. This will in turn help to balance the vine and produce better quality grapes. However, on a hillside vineyard, nutrients can be limited and water tends to drain very quickly, both factors that lead to lower yields on the vine. To compensate, the technique of cane pruning is utilized. Another benefit to cane pruning is it less harsh on the vine itself. With cordon pruning, each new shoot (usually 8 to a side for a total of 16) are pruned every year leaving the vine with many pruning scars. This leaves the vine much more susceptible to infections (such as Eutypa, described earlier). Because of this, excessive pruning can lessen the lifespan and efficiency of an individual vine.

So, as you can see, many key decisions are made when planting a vineyard and lots of work goes into maintaining a vineyard as well…..and we have barely even scratched the surface of the complexities that go into creating and maintaining a vineyard that will produce quality fruit year after year. It’s a good thing that we enjoy it so much!

Jason

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Image  Try as we might, the King duo cannot seem to get it together to be in Napa for the Kerry’s Vineyard harvest. There was still plenty do, however, when we met Jason at Cuvaison. The wine was already in the tanks, and there were nutrients to be added. We measured out DAP and Superfood, dissolved it in water, and added it to the tanks. It is safe to say both my chemistry and measuring skills remain questionable, but this may be because I left my tentative grasp of the metric system back in high school with my calculus skills. Jason, on the other hand, measures out DAP in kilos like he is the Pablo Escobar of nutrients. After nutrients were added, the Kerry’s Vineyard tank needed to be punched down. Affectionately referred to as the “punch down of death”, this process involves standing on a wood plank over the tank and mixing the grapes and juice with a metal instrument. You may remember from the Harvest 2010 post that falling off this plank into the tank would mean suffocation because of the carbon dioxide emitted by the fermenting yeast. After we survived the punch down, we went to their Malbec vineyard to take samples. We zig-zagged up and down every few rows of grapes and took one grape from each point, making sure to grab grapes from different parts of the cluster each time. This is to account for different parts of the vineyard being exposed to more sun and other factors. We took the samples back to the office, crushed up the grapes, and filtered the juice into beakers. Tom put a few drops of juice into this little scientific machine to measure the Brix. We ended the day the only acceptable way: with cheese and a glass Tom Eddy wine.

            The next morning, we woke up bright and early to head up to Stagecoach for that harvest. After a very long bumpy drive up to the top of the mountain across which Stagecoach sprawls, we arrived at the vineyard just in time to see bins full of grapes be trucked down the way we came. Luckily Jason was already at Cuvaison waiting for the delivery. We then headed back down the mountain and made a pit stop to check out the Syrah that was still on the vines. When we arrived at Cuvaison, there was sorting, sorting, sorting, and more sorting to be done. The fruit looked great and there were very few MOGs (Materials Other than Grapes) to be sorted out. There were a few black widows calling the clusters their home, and were it not for my preoccupation with finding and avoiding spiders, Jason may not have lived to tell the tale of the never-ending Stagecoach sort. Nine tons and what felt like days later, we finished sorting and cautiously stepped down from the platform next to the conveyor belt, unsure of whether it was the platform or the belt moving after staring at grapes marching by for so long. A barbeque at the Eddy ranch concluded the day’s work.

            We opened our final day there with a breakfast at Café Sarafornia, which is always a staple during our trips: I am very much a fan of how many tea options they bring with your personal size teapot.  My dad went with Tom to sample the Cabernet, and I went with Jason to the winery to inoculate the Stagecoach. Inoculation is definitely my favorite part of the winemaking process. Seeing the “yeast babies” come to life is a magical process, and Jason takes special care to make sure as many of them as possible survive the inoculation process. There were a lot of juice adds to be done, but I managed to get the juice out of the tank without spraying wine across the room. After the “yeast babies” were added to the Stagecoach tank, we added nutrients to the Kerry’s Vineyard tank again. We then went in to the cave to burp the bungs, as one had shot out of the barrel the day prior. Being the smallest of the group, it was mine to climb the barrel racks and remove the bungs from the barrels and let any remaining carbon dioxide gas escape. When this was done, it was time for us to head back to San Francisco, with a pit stop at Dean and Deluca. Covered in yeast, Superfood, and grape slime, we looked like legitimate members of the winemaking business decked out in our Tom Eddy gear. Apparently we weren’t the only ones who thought so, as a chef in Dean and Deluca stopped us to ask about Tom Eddy Wines. As another year’s harvest came to an end, we headed back to San Francisco anxiously awaiting a chance to return.

 

JessicaImageImageImageImage