Winter Pruning

Jan 30, 2012

Folks, when visiting the vineyard look at the rows and rows of vines, and frequently comment that it must be a lot of work and where do we get enough people to harvest all those grapes?  While it is always a challenge to find folks to do this kind of farming, the harvest is a relatively easy time.  Some even volunteer to help at that season.  It’s a time of soft (usually) fall weather, and you can sample the fruit as you pick.   One of the real challenges is now….winter time.  This is when we prune most of last year’s growth off the vines.  Last winter we did it on snow shoes and  in very warm parkas.  This year we are doing it using ice cleats on our shoes and rain gear. We start in January and our goal is to finish before the vines start to awaken in late March. A prospective pruner has to be trained before we turn him or her loose on the vines.  If you prune too much not only do you lose some needed fruit but you over-invigorate the vine.  If too little is pruned the vine may over-produce, resulting in poorer quality fruit and the resulting stress on the vine might lead to too small yields the next season.  We aim for consistent yields from year to year or, in viticulture terms, a “balanced vine.”  On the left is one of our 6 year-old Marquette vines before pruning and on the right is a Marquette vine after pruning. (check out the video at the bottom of the page.) We mostly prune canes, the soft, smooth-barked one-year growth.  We usually leave a few buds on these canes from the previous season’s growth.  These buds will be the coming season’s source of fruit.  If there is not a lot of previous-year cane growth, we will prune more aggressively, leaving fewer buds.  We hope this will keep fruiting down somewhat and coax the vine to show some more vigor.  Viticulture texts go into detail on this subject, with formulas for pruning weight of the one year canes vs. the number of buds to leave on the vines, and the resulting fall harvest fruit weight , and we follow their guidance. Based on the pruning weight on our Marquette vines this 2011-2012 winter, we have hopes for a very robust harvest next fall.   So….. while we may not seek new volunteer winter pruners, yes, we still welcome your interest in work here during the harvest season and hope you’ll enjoy snacking on some the fruit as you gather clusters and drop them into the harvest lugs.  -Ken

Check out this short video of Ethan pruning a Marquette grapevine.