Silvia’s Wine Adventure – Part III

July 29, 2009
by Silvia

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In this third part to Silvia’s season long wine adventure, she reports on the status of her vines, what she learned about vine maintenance and how to plant new grapes. read part I ¦ read part II

Spring finally arrived.

When the rain weather travels from the west toward Graubünden, there is a good chance the rain drops will never fall in Malans…or at least wait until the evening. This is the typical weather pattern in the Bündner Herrschaft and for once the weather did what was expected. Even though rain covered most of Switzerland, we were able to enjoy the warm spring sun.

A quick inspection of the vineyard told me what I needed to immediately know – our vines made it through the winter…and I did too. The vines looked strong and full of growth. The year’s early spring weather caused the vines to bud early, but the subsequent cold weather caused everything to return to normal by mid-May. But even so, some growers have compared the 2009 crop with 2003 and 2007, when everything was early.

As I walked the vineyard and came upon my row of vines, I noticed the few branches on each vine grew into bushes. There were also many little grape bunches visible…a joy to see.

Letting nature do what it wants means losing control of the vines and giving enemies a chance to attack. So after pruning and selecting two branches per vine in the winter, then binding them to the wire at the end of winter, it is now time to keep the vine’s new growth under control.    

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The day’s first task was to clean the main trunk from every bit of stray growth. This is a necessary task, because stray shoots from the main trunk would use too much of the nutritional reserve in the trunk and rob the branches and leaves of nourishment. The plant is acquiring all of its nutrition from its reserve in the old wood at this point in the year, rather than getting nutrition from the soil.

Ok…got it. Now, about those buds and leaves…

A vine bud has three complete plants in each single bud. If frost damage kills off the main bud, then a reserve bud would simply step in and insure the plants survival (don’t you love nature). With grapes, however, a bud will sometimes produce two shoots, which is not at all efficient. Our goal was to break off any double shoots which may have sprouted and create a total of twelve shoots (six shoots on each of the two branches).

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We also needed to trim away many leaves…so many, in fact, that my bushy green vines looked a bit wimpy and underweight. Leaving too many leaves on the vine would create too much shadow for the developing grape bunches. So in this case, less is actually more – less leaves mean more exposure to the sun and more photosynthesis. Another advantage of having less leaves is to produce more ventilation within the vines, which help to prevent diseases such as mildew and mold. This makes future work easier and gives the vineyard manager a better view of the grape bunches and their development.

The tasks were simple and the work was done quickly – leaving enough time to move on to a new task.

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The spring is the time to replace sick, dead or very old and unproductive vines with new ones. A vineyard should replace some of its plants each year to ensure stable yields over many years. That’s why you can often see a few newbies popping up amongst the old and proud vines.

Replacing an entire vineyard or a major portion of the vineyard is costly and time consuming. Once the vines are pulled up 2-3 years need to pass before new vines can be replanted…obviously a loss of income during this time. The school in Landquart decided a couple of years ago to replace the grape variety in a large portion of their vineyard, and planting the new vines became our task for the afternoon. Fortunately, much of the planting was already completed on this steep slope and we did not need to become mountain goats to complete the task at the bottom of the hill.

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The planting itself was really simple – dig a hole and put the rootstock in it – but, we also learned how to take a soil sample and a bit about grafting vines. The aphid phylloxera would munch the rootstocks of every European grape vine and simply kill them, while American rootstocks have developed a defense against this destructive pest. This is why European grape varieties are grafted onto American rootstocks. When the grafted plant is placed into the hole, most of the rootstock is buried while the grafted part always remains above ground – otherwise, the European stem would grow its own roots and the rootstock would die.

This was difficult work – something I would prefer to avoid on a daily basis. It was warm and dusty, and with the time, faint signs of news blisters began to appear on my hands. But in the end, there is always the reward in knowing I contributed to future Chardonnay production in the Bündner Herrschaft!

Continuing in mid-August…

more about Silvia



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