A couple months ago, we had soil (and all things wine) extraordinaire, Dave Bos, come out to our vineyards to talk dirty to us. He spoke with our staff on the value of high-quality soil, soil composition and how it affects our plant growth, grape development and ultimately, how much it matters for quality wine. It was very enlightening! Then last week, he was so kind to come out again to teach us about the actual plant growth itself, the lifecycle of vinifera grapes. We learned a ton and I wanted to share a recap of that here.
The health of our vines depends directly on the health of the soil. Our focus is on treating the soil with care so that it can provide solid vine growth. Healthy land means happier vines which translates to higher quality grapes. Each of our vines is handled individually 10-12 times per year, which means that they get a lot of personal attention. If we didn’t pay such close attention to our vines, they would naturally grow into a bushy mess of leaves and branches. Meticulous pruning helps the vines stay nice and organized with their energy focused on growing impeccable grapes.
The soil we have is sandy loam. Sandy loam is in between sand and silt in the soil texture triangle.
Sandy loam is porous, so it drains easily, which is important here due to the amount of rain we do get. The soil structure will and can change the growth of the vines. When combined with other healthy biodiverse strategies, the entire environment, which makes up the terroir, becomes energized to produce better quality grapes, that stand out in the wine. We believe it's one of the reasons that BHV produces outstanding wines year after year.
Grapevines are perennial plants, meaning that they grow in spring, bloom over summer, then die back over the winter months, and then repeats its cycle from its rootstock the following spring. I found this diagram of the yearly lifecycle of a grapevine from Wine Folly. I love it!
Depending on the weather, bud break here typically starts mid-June and this is where 100% of the vine is focused on growing. Then it will self-pollinate and flower where we will remove the leaves from the fruit zone to enhance direct sun exposure to the fruit, then fruit set (grapes) and then veraison (the grapes will change color and sweeten). Once veraison starts, 100% of the plant’s energy will move toward veraison and the vines themselves will quit growing. We are constantly pruning our vines (hedging, removing suckers, leafing) to keep the energy where it needs to be. We’ve had a cool and rainy season so far, so bud break was a bit behind schedule. But the good news is, veraison is what determines harvest, not bud break. So, fingers crossed for a long and hot fall!
It's coming up on our favorite time of year here at BHV. Why, you ask? Pruning (yes, we really mean that!)! We spent February snowshoeing around, rolling through the vineyards, and checking on our vines. This time in the vines allowed us to fully see the quality of vine management from the previous vintage and make any necessary adjustments. It gave us a moment to pause and direct our attention to any new techniques that we may want to apply in the vineyard. It is also an opportune time to evaluate the position of the vines' shoots and anticipate changes we may want to make for not only the current growing season but for productivity of future vintages.
March is here, and for Michigan grape growers that means pruning is just around the corner. For us, grapevine pruning is an annual practice where nearly 90 percent of the previous year’s growth is removed. This is how we maintain the vine form and control the fruit and quality.
Spencer recently took me on a pruning lesson and it was so interesting to see what happens to, and how much labor goes into, each vine during pruning. If you take a look at the photos above you can see what the vine looked like before it was pruned, the middle stage and after it was finished. I threw the fourth photo in there just to show you what the vine looked like the very next day. One day it was a beautiful, bluebird day, and then the next, a complete whiteout...which is exactly why we start pruning early here! Shoot thinning early in the season is one way to overcome the crowding in these areas.
When pruning, we are trimming the vines to select our best two canes that we will then tie down on the weight-bearing wire, and count out to eight buds (ideal vine). We are looking for a pencil-sized diameter for the canes, not the bigger ones, sometimes referred to as bull wood. We want the pencil-size diameter because it has more vigor and the buds are tighter together.
With over 25 years experience, it's safe to say that Spencer is a fast pruner but just pruning one vine took about 20 minutes! It's pretty incredible to think that this happens by hand every year, on each and every one of our 18,000+ vines!
Stay tuned for the next edition of Designing the Vine!
We expect this harvest somewhere around 80% of the 2013 crop. Our vines were some of the best looking on the peninsula, although drosophila/bees/sour rot got to some of the vines. Bunches are large, berries range from tight to fleshy! Cheers!