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Viticulture Association of the Santa Cruz Mountains

  Pruning & Weeds

Map with permission of VinMaps


Winter 2009

Happy New Year yet again! Itís amazing to think that we are almost ready to close out the first decade of the millennium. It has been a great run for Santa Cruz wine grape growers and everyone is to be congratulated for their dedication to excellence. Wines from our humble appellation continue to garner attention and accolades. It starts in the vineyard. Cheers to everyone!

In January we see the bones of the vineyard. Dormancy is the time to repair trellis wire and stakes, straighten rows, and deal with hardware problems. It is best to perform these tasks after pruning because it is easier to see the infrastructure. There is no canopy and there is less wood to work around. Flag hardware issues as you prune so they are easy to find for repair later.

Winter is the time to perform weed control before undesirable plants get a chance to grow big. This can be accomplished easily with hoes or flamers in smaller vineyards. If you use the Internet, Google ďRed Dragon Propane FlamersĒ or ďpropane weed controlĒ for more information. Another option during dry conditions is to use tractor implements to mechanically remove as much vegetation as possible. You can also go in with a weed whacker on larger weeds. Be sure to get in there before the weed flowers and seeds form or you will just add to the seed bank of undesirable plants in row. Herbicides can be an option. If you go this route pay attention to the chemicalís mode of action and your vineyardís soil type to protect ground water. When the weather warms up the weeds will grow exponentially. Get them under control now to reduce effort later.

Walk your vineyard. Take note of where the vineyard is strong and where there is weakness or missing canes. The vigor of a vine will dictate how you might prune it for the coming year. Watch for new gopher holes popping up as soon as the soil warms.  Get the first generation of gophers under control now. Many growers have had tremendous success with the cinch traps demonstrated by Thomas Whitman at one of our previous meetings. Check our website for contact information. Many of the vineyards I work with have abandoned chemical controls and other trapping methods for the cinch traps because they are so effective and relatively easy to use.

Patience is key in pruning just as it is in almost every aspect of wine. Each year we finish the holidays and awake to the New Year full of ambition. Instead it may be time for yet another cup of hot chocolate, perhaps an espresso, or even a glass of your very favorite wine that somehow escaped the family celebration. It is a time for reflection and evaluation of where your vineyard is today and where you want it to be.  Consider the history. Are there spots susceptible to frost? Is there a block that always buds first?  Is there an area that ripens before itís time? Is there a spot that never fully matures in season? 

All vines will bud out in spring even if you never prune at all. But you can influence the timing of bud break somewhat by timing the pruning. The very act of cutting into the wood awakens the vine and begins the annual process of renewal. If you have an area susceptible to spring frost perhaps that spot should be pruned last. Or perhaps it should be pruned twice; once with long spurs so that the apical buds will burst forth early and then again to protect the tissue in the basal buds from the spring cold. Perhaps save the vineyard blocks that ripen too soon for last. If one block is too vigorous, leave many spurs and then finger prune the green shoots. Another option is to leave a ďkicker caneĒ or a cane that is 3 or 4 feet long. After bud break cut it off. This will eat up some of the energy in the vine and reduce vigor. Cut a weak vine back to its healthiest spurs and do not ask too much of it this year. Donít leave too many buds on it.

Older, thicker vines can be susceptible to Eutypa if large pruning wounds are left open.  If it is necessary to make big cuts, consider doing it closer to spring, when the sap is running. Sap bleeding out of a wound (positive pressure) prevents entry of harmful organisms. Try not to prune in the rain. Itís no fun and itís bad for the vine.

When you have found the right time to prune, balancing your decision between having enough people power to accomplish the goal before bud break and timing the cuts to coincide with the natural rhythm of the vine, you can begin. There is seldom the perfect day but attention to past growth patterns will offer direction in what to do now.

After that it is a matter of choosing your cuts. Prune out damaged and infected wood and do not allow spurs or canes to cross in front of each other. Always imagine the future.  See in your mindís eye the shoots emerge from each bud. Each shoot in turn will most likely carry two clusters of fruit. See where that fruit will form in the canopy and try to create a space for it. Clusters like light and air and bits of shade so that they are never too hot or too cold or too wet.

Another option is to hedge prune and leave lots of spurs and finger prune in the spring for the same effect.  It is essential to properly follow up this method or your canopy will be dense and impenetrable.

Create a beautiful beginning for your vines. Remember that every cluster needs its place and there must be room within the canopy for drying breezes and soft sprays.

If we donít get enough rain this winter you might consider a little extra water to make up the deficit. February is also a great time for compost, gypsum and lime. Most soils love calcium. Check your lab report for mineral deficiencies and imbalances.

Take that extra breath and your favorite bottle and make some plans. The rush is just around the corner. The vintage will come.

Prospero Ano Nuevo!

Prudy Foxx
Foxx Viticulture
Santa Cruz Mountains

(Vine Talk column, January 2009)





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