Happy Leap Day Everyone!
Even though I appreciate an extra day in the year, it is completely unfortunate that it must be in February! Highs today in Yamhill, 41 degrees with rain & snow! Cold, rainy weather is typical this time of year keeping us on-track to a typical growing season. Our 12-man full-time, year-round vineyard crew has been working diligently all month to pull brush (the removal of last years pruned growth) and tie canes. I will not insult your intelligence by explaining ‘brush pulling,’ but the cane selection process before tying is quite interesting.
Here it is: during January pruning, the crew went through by hand and trimmed each vine, leaving one or two healthy fruiting canes at full-length. This fruiting cane is exactly what it sounds like, the cane that bears fruit (read: grapes). How do you choose a healthy fruiting cane? It should be a cane that is not too thin, but not too thick, about the diameter of a pencil is good. It also must have good “internode spacing” (space between buds on the cane). For WillaKenzie vines, there should be about nine buds per cane, 3-4 inches apart each on the plants that are spaced 5 foot apart. This is part of what makes pruning, and vine training in general, so labor intensive. Each member of our crew must make this crucial decision for every vine, in two vineyards with 1152 to 1771 vines per acre (depending on each block) at Willakenzie and 2420 vines per acre at the Jory Hills Vineyard and 129 acres total.! No wonder it took them a month to complete! Next week, all 12 crew members will be heading over to our Dundee Hills property, the Jory Hills Vineyard, an area of 24 acres. With 12 men, the project of pulling brush and cane tying will take approximately 504 man-hours, or about 1 week. If one person were to attempt this job, it would take 63 days! These guys deserve a medal!
This reminds me of another little tid-bit from Mike Rogers, our Vineyard Manager, called the “kicker cane.” The kicker cane is a third fruiting cane left on the vine during pruning. You can think of it as a fail-safe for the vine. This third fruiting cane is crucial if something happens to one of the other fruiting canes. For example, with Pinot Blanc vines, the canes can become very brittle making it difficult to bend them over to align and tie onto the fruiting wire (the lowest wire). If a cane breaks during this process, the kicker vine is there to save the day. Another example when WillaKenzie uses a kicker cane is in the Terres Basses vineyard. Translated, Terres Basses means “lower land,” and creates a pocket of cool air prone to form frost. If bud-break happens in early April, it is likely that there could be some morning frost, the frost can “freeze” or kill the young shoots that were beginning to grow from the buds. Since these buds were tied to the fruiting wire (the wire closest to the ground where frost forms) they are most susceptible, meanwhile the buds growing on the kicker cane (not tied down) will still be healthy and will become the replacement.
Voila, healthy vines!