Canopy Management (And Other People’s Vines)

June 26, 2011 | By | Reply More

There's something quite liberating about working on someone else's vines. 

Through a class at Piedmont Virginia Community College, we've worked on vines at DuCard Vineyeards now on five separate occasions, starting with dormant winter pruning in late winter and moving on through various stages of the vine's annual growth.  On each occassion, I started off, as did many of my classmates, staring at a vine, certain that I was about to ruin it,  if not forever, than surely for the season, perhaps costing DuCard a small but meaningful share of its harvest.

Most often, I wanted for DuCard's ever-patient owner, Scot Elliff, or his equally patient vineyard manager, Julien Durantie, to show me just one more time how to do whatever it was that we were expected to do that day.  At some point, I would begin working on my own, tentatively at first, but with increasing confidence until at some point, I thought myself almost ready to work without supervision. 

As we worked, my classmates and I shared  a thought about how grateful we were that Scot allowed amateurs like us to work on his vines.  That was ususally followed by a second thought: that Julien probably came up behind us the following day and tidied everything up.

No matter.  For some part of the afternoon, we felt like we knew what we were doing, shaping the vines with a sense of confidence we could never have developed if we were working in our own vineyard.

This weekend's sesssion was on the continuing process of canopy management.  The vines make very rapid growth during the season, quickly gaining several feet of height, and sprouting leaves everywhere.  The leaves are important, since they are the platform for photosynthesis, which fuels growth.  But they also get in the way,  Too many leaves inhibit air flow through the vines, and shade the newly forming grapes from the sun.  Conversely, too little foilage would likely expose the young berries to sunburn, so a balance is needed.  Our job on Saturday was to remove exactly the right number of leaves.

Okay, it's not an exact science (which I suppose is fortunate, since it's hard to believe Scot would have tusted us with the vines if it were), but a well-managed canopy is a thing of beauty.  Before working on the section of Norton vines that we have tended over the course of five classes (and will see through until the harvest), we walked through rows of Cab Franc and Viognier that Julien had worked on, and it was hard not to be impressed by the perfectly-thinned canopy that hung over open clusters of grapes.

DuCard uses a Lyre trellis system, which allows the vines to grow up both sides of a U-shaped structure.  That's a system that's working well for DuCard, but it does mean that there are a lot of hard-to-reach leaves on the inner part of the structure.  Julien uses a hedger that attaches to the front of his tractor and trims a few inches off about two vertical feet of the inner and outer part of the vines, one side at a time.  The whirling blades aren't as discriminating as individual workers, but they don't need to be.  They remove the young leaves that play no role in photosynthesis, and keep the canopy from growing out of control. 

We won't be buying that kind of equipment for the small vineyard we're planning, so I'm thinking that's a good reason not to to use a Lyre trellis. 

The vines are making trememndous growth now, and Julien will undoubtedly be thining the canopy every few weeks.  We'll see the vines again next month, around the time of veraison, when it will be time to prune clusters from the vines to concentrate growth in the remaining fruit. And yes, to once again gain confidence by working with other people's vines.

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Category: All Posts, Virginia Wineries, Viticulture

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