Friday, January 15, 2010

Making the Cut

So we are here, it is time, the guys are fixing it up. After a lengthy conversation about historical practices, vigor, philosophical approaches and future direction on Monday with Eugenio and Dave, we finally put on the green light to start pruning. The only caveat being that it then decided that it should open the tap and start raining for a day and a half. Well that subsided, and quite literally with a couple of the nicest days in the past 3 months, the sun was shining and the shears were brandished. 14 guys showed up on Thursday got the 7AM lecture about technique as it had been quite clearly defined and began to roll. Of course, you can stand there with 14 guys and look at 2 or if you choose even 4 vines pruning while you explain the process and explain your goals and so on and so forth, these guys may be the most knowledgeable and experienced pruners available, the kind of guys that you would like to have representing you at the County Pruning finals and likely to go all the way and walk off with over $2000 in pocket in cash and prizes (don't believe me? search Sonoma County Pruning Contest, it is very, very cool), but as soon as you roll every one out to their individual rows, you better start walking (and understand Spanish) because there will be questions. Because every vine is a different puzzle in itself. And when you are pruning a difficult scenario like double Guyot in a young vineyard and still developing the vines, there are all sorts of puzzles to figure out. In this case there were questions for almost 2 hours before guys really got humming along.

You see, pruning comes in all different forms. The form we are chasing, at current, is called double Guyot. In Pinot Noir we are going for the full translation, meaning two canes and no replacement spurs. Pinot Noir likes to grow. It is a varietal that will cause farmers that don't anticipate this to spend long spring hours removing unanticipated growth from the middles of their vines in an attempt to aerate the fruit zone. With this knowledge in hand, one can set to the task of utilizing these basal buds as fruiting positions, eliminate the competition for sun, air and water by dropping the spurs, foster healthy growth at the base of the canes and take healthy replacements from the most ideal of scenarios in the following year.

This is definitely the way to start because it makes the cordon trained spur pruning blocks so much more rewarding. Yes we have those as well. I'll elaborate more when we get into those a little later.

Now, once again, rain is immanent. It is actually taking the form of a line of storms about to pound us for at least a week straight. We will spend a couple of these days tying down the vines we just got finished pruning, but then we will have to sit it out until the rain subsides. We don't prune in the rain. Why?

We walk around in constant fear of what may land on our tender open wounds on the vines after we cut them. There are certain molds and fungi that seem to love to pray on wood, believe it or not. One example, Eutypa lata, from the Diatrypaceae family of fungi, happens to love grape vines (who can blame it? I totally understand.). Well, Eutypa loves it when it rains. Feeding and habitation of Eutypa takes the form of a small (I mean really small) pocket on the wood which they've infested. When it rains, the water fills the pocket displacing the dry powdery spores that have built up, pushs them out and they take flight in the stormy winds and fly around in some random hope that they come up against some freshly cut exposed sweet delicate wood. So if we are out cutting vines in the rain, chances are pretty good that at least some of those cuts get infected with some type fungus. The wood around this colonization begins to die back as cells are compromised and the entire vine can soon find itself sucking air, and in a matter of two to three years, it is just out of production. Believe me, when you are farming these established vines, and you first see it you are in denial, and you try all sorts of pruning tricks to try to ward off the pending death, replace pruning, dead arm cutback, etc, costly and time intensive techniques to attempt to save your vine. Sometimes they work. But usually, after suffering for a few years of sub par performance most are doomed, and end up upside down in farming cost, or it just up and dies. GREAT! Then we begin to wonder how many more vines have been infected, in the meantime, from spores from this vine floating around, remove it, destroy it, and replant it. After three years of special, usually hand, nurturing of the replacement vine, we may get this space in the vineyard back into partial production. Then eventually into full production. In the interim, we've lost 6 years or so of production. If a vine was supposed to be cranking out 5 pounds of fruit per year, then we're talking 30+ pounds of fruit in 6 years. If this fruit is designated for a $100 bottle of wine, you've just lost yourself $1100 in wine from that spot going down for 6 years. Let's say you have a 4% failure rate (high) because you've been out pruning in the rain, on a 6' x 4' vineyard, you are talking 72 vines, you do the math. The hand nurturing of that space back to life also cost you dearly. And the first year back into production (year 7 on this timeline) you can expect 25% production, second year 50% and maybe, just maybe by 3rd crop (year 9 on this timeline) you'll be getting your 5 lbs back. So is it worth it to take a day off when its raining and reduce your risk of exposure? Yes!!

Anyhow, we got two good solid 10 hour days of pruning in this week, probably a week before we get back out there. 2 blocks down and only 30 more to go before March 1. Let's hope for some sun.

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