Tag Archives: grape growing

A Little Wine-Grape Trivia

As we see the grapes turning from green to purple, how about a little grape trivia?

What’s your favorite bit of wine trivia?

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Today’s Wine Word: Phylloxera


With all due modesty, dontcha just love this photo? When I saw this vine displayed it confirmed something I’ve felt for nearly my whole life: that dormant vines are beautiful – they’re Mother Nature’s sculptures!

And, as an educator I love the graphic depiction of how virtually all wine grapes, world-wide, are grown.

As of the 1860s, vitis vinifera (European grape varieties – wine varieties) have to be grafted to American rootstock in order to survive. Yes, even in Europe.

Long story, short: Back in the 1800s, as French varieties came to the U.S. American varieties went to France. Some of the American cuttings that went to France carried a nasty pest, phylloxera, with them. Continue reading

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Bud Break in the Vineyards

What is bud break? Every spring the tiny buds (growing points) on the vines begin to swell up and  tiny bits of pinky-green new growth break through –  bud break!

I’ve already seen some new growth on some of the early varieties like Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc but the Cabernet vines I’ve seen are still sleeping in. This is a beautiful time of year, here. What’s your favorite time of year to visit wine country?

My husband is getting much better. We hope he’ll be moved to a skilled nursing facility this week, to regain his strength. Thank you so much for the kind messages and emails.

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Today’s Wine Word: Pruning



Hi! This is another golden-oldie post, but very timely. Growers who haven’t finished up their pruning need to shake a leg because the 2013 growing season is starting as we speak!

For those following my personal story, my husband has been transferred from the ICU to another floor in the hospital, which is a good sign. Thank you for the very nice emails and good wishes!

Now, for the post:

‘Tis the season. Now’s the time to get the vines pruned before they think about pushing out new growth. Pruning can be done any time during dormancy, which is usually from sometime in November unitl about mid March here.

Pruning is extremely important to yields and quality. It’s the biggest single tool the vineyard manager has to influence how many shoots will emerge in the coming weeks and approximately how many grape clusters will form. 

Its not hard. There’s actually sort of a mathematical formula for it. The grower has fairly specific numbers in mind for shoots and cluster based upon the variety, the spacing, the vigor or the situation, and his/her experience with the site. He instructs the pruners accordingly. 

The skeletal picture above tells you that, from all that lush green growth of summer, after the leaves drop in November and the bare shoots are exposed, almost nothing is left behind after pruning. 

The picture shows two common ways (among nearly countless ways) to train a grapevine. Let’s go with the top figure. See those little bumps on the horizontal “canes” or shoots? Those are buds, or growing points. When the vine wakes up, each bud is expected to push out a new shoot. And each shoot will produce two clusters, give or take. We know, from experience, that the clusters will emerge from the new shoots, but very close to the old shoot. Those two horizontal  canes were new growth the previous spring, so the clusters will hang just below the trellis wires.

As many a vineyard manager has reflected, the vines haven’t read the textbook so a bud may push out more than one shoot and a shoot may produce more or less than two clusters. There’s nothing to be done about less, of course, but if there are more shoots than anticipated they’re thinned out in April. Too many shoots cause overcroppping and crowding – which exacerbates mildew problems.

Later, after the vines flower, since too many clusters may lead to diluted flavors, any excess is cut off. So, at least among top-quality producers, the leaf canopy and the clusters will be monitored from the beginning until nearly the end of the growing season in an effort to make the season go smoothly and promote flavor intensity. 

Easy for me to say “It’s not hard.” Better to ask the pruner who won this year’s annual pruning competition! He walked away with $600.00 in cash plus a bunch of other goodies. Way to go!

And, from those bare “bones” a lush, green canopy will emerge again. Soon!

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Today’s Wine Word: Early Bud Break


If you grow wine grapes in the northern hemisphere you should finish up pruning in the next month or so, depending upon your growing conditions. If you have a vineyard in the Napa Valley (or Northern California) you better finish up NOW!

The annual growth cycle of a vineyard resembles that of a rose garden. After a spring, summer and fall of producing their little hearts out these plants deserve, and take, a rest. Depending upon the weather, the vines drop their leaves and go dormant sometime in November or December – just like roses. Frankly, they look like dead stumps right now.

But, we’re thinking the vines may well wake up early, in this neck of the woods, this year. After a summer of no summer in 2011 we’re experiencing a very pleasant (but somewhat scary) winter of no winter here. It’s been warm and dry for the most part. Today is supposed to top 75 degrees frevvinsake!

On a normal year, we figure the vines will come out of dormancy beginning in about mid-March. But, the soil warms up fast when it’s dry and it could well be that the vines are thinking about stirring and, maybe, waking a few weeks early. 

A few weeks can’t possibly matter, you say! Well… it depends. 

The thing is that we can have frost at night here into May and the earlier the vines wake up the greater the risk of frost damage. Last year, the spring was so wet and weepy that we didn’t have any frost problems at all. But 2008 was the worst year for frost since 1972! Can you say crop loss? Not to mention sleep deprivation! 

If we come through the spring without any frost damage, all in all, early “bud break” (the emergence of new shoots) can work to our advantage. Early bud break  often means early flowering, early fruitset and early harvest. Which means we may escape rain damage on the other end of the season.

Of course, this is all speculation. Stay tuned… 

Next: pruning!

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