We planted our vineyard in the spring and summer of 1998. The year before we did extensive preparation of the ground so it would be ready to grow the best vines in the area for the next 50 years. There are no frivolities in the vineyard but we spared no expense on anything or everything necessary to a good workable long term and productive operation.
Sometimes people skimp on things by using pressure treated endposts and tiny training stakes for most of the vines or a second rate irrigation system. We wanted to do it right and not do it over again in our lifetime. We used steel for all the stakes, supports and end posts. All the emitters on the drip system are pressure compensating and each line has pressure relief valves, ball valves and cleanout fittings.
We planted 3,876 Cabernet, 1,230 Merlot, 1,134 Chardonnay and 1,260 Zinfandel vines. The rows run North/South so that when the sun is at its’ apex the dirt between the rows is not shaded. The vines have a divided foliar canopy and each is trained to have four arms. Most of the large agribusiness vineyards are trained with two arms so they may be machine harvested and they can also get into full production much faster. Our way allows the vines to grow into maturity at a slower rate and they are not forced into early high production which will rob them of vitality. Leaves are solar panels. Our quadrilateral cordon system assures that there are enough leaves to manufacture the sugar to ripen the grapes. And, just as important, this trellising system spreads out the foliar canopy so that all the leaves receive light and work efficiently. This system also creates a natural healthy balance of cane length to fruit. It is extremely labor intensive to establish.
Pruning is the most important task of the year. We start in January and finish in early March Every cut is predicated on what you observe going on with that vine. Vigor, fruitfulness, direction of growth and retention of form are all taken into account with each cut. Of course you get faster with experience, otherwise you couldn’t get the task completed before the vines come out of dormancy. Based on very minimal assumptions and the number of vines we have to make about 420,000 pruning cuts each year. Half a million is probably closer. Right-handed Felco #12 pruning shears are what I use. They’re fifty bucks and worth every penny. Pruning on a brisk, sunny day in late February, smelling the grass and mustard and having a bowl of Minnestrone and a salad of fresh picked dandelion leaves and finely sliced garlic with oil and vinegar and a loaf of sweet French Bread for lunch. What could be better.