Lessons in Shoot Thinning and Fruit Selection

Shoot - Halter Ranch Vineyard

Eusebio Working Magic

 

During our weekly visit to Block 33 Merlot as part of the HRV Special Projects Program vineyard foreman Eusebio Rico and viticulturalist Lucas Pope offered us advice and lessons as the processes of shoot thinning and fruit selection begin.  We watched Eusebio work a few vines to see how it’s done.  While his hands flew across the trunk removing leaves, unwanted clusters and shoots, he gave us a quick rundown of which clusters to keep (the more developed, evenly spaced, and sun protected ones taking priority) and which leaves to remove. 

 

Shoot - Halter Ranch Vineyard

Below the Second Wire

 

As the vines continue to grow, the effects of late April frost in this block are becoming more evident.  The vine in the photo above is barely reaching the second wire, while the one below is well above the upper wire.  For the fruit, this means that the upper vine will have much less surface area in terms of leaves to ripen the grapes.  It will be very difficult for portions of the block hit by frost to catch up to portions that were not.

 

Good Growth

Good Growth

 

As a group our task was to decide how to handle disparity between vines well into the process of shoot growth, and those that fell behind due to the chill.  One option would be to exclude all fruit from vines that were badly hit by frost, dropping it on the ground to contribute its nutrients back into the soil and allowing these vines to prepare for Spring 2014.

An alternative is to make 2 passes during harvest, picking the first round of ripe fruit in the first pass, and the second round from the vines fallen behind in a second pass.  This was our method in Block 29 Grenache and Block 11 Syrah in 2011 when those blocks were frostbitten.

 

Bunched Up Fruit

Bunched Up Fruit

 

Our initial impulse was to drop fruit back to one cluster per shoot and to remove wings and shoulders (wings and shoulders are small bunches of grapes that grow as offshoots of the main cluster) given Merlot’s tendency to be overenthusiastic in providing fruit (too much fruit results in thin, underripe juice).  But after considering the frost damage and Lucas’s suggestion that we leave shoulders and wings given the health of the block and the likelihood keeping them will not decrease overall fruit quality.

 

Shoot - Halter Ranch Vineyard

The Leaves We Leave

 

In addition to selecting which clusters to keep, we also remove laterals (groups of two to three leaves that grow from the base of larger, more established leaves) and any growth from the underside of the vine.  The idea here is to eliminate enough growth to allow airflow around the clusters we keep while still providing enough leaf cover to shield against the harsh afternoon sun.

 

Shoot - Halter Ranch Vineyard

Lucas Offers Insight

 

As we discussed the number of clusters to leave on each shoot Lucas offered the following insight:  “Vineyard management is a science, but it’s a soft science.  Like any part of this industry there are a wide variety of opinions, and a number of possible ways to go about things.”  Like any aspect of the wine industry, there are so many variables in the vineyard that a single correct answer does not exist.  Instead we are left the leeway to pick and choose which methods we want to employ and see what happens.  As we make our way through the experience we will keep you posted here and on our facebook page.  As always, thanks for reading and cheers!

 

 

 

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