Vintage Update – February 2022
To a large degree, February activities look similar to January in the vineyards. The weather is still wet and cold, the vines are still dormant in preparation for the growing season ahead, and our vineyard stewards are entrenched in the pivotal work of pruning, brush pulling and tying down the canes.
Erica Miller, vineyard manager at Knudsen Vineyards, says the pruning process is absolutely essential to a strong harvest. The vast majority of Dundee Hills members utilize the cane pruning approach, where 90% of last year’s growth is cut back, leaving just one or two canes to sustain the shoots and clusters for the year ahead. The canes selected should be close together on the head of the vine, and in line with the row of vines rather than pointed into the space between the row in order to avoid damage from the tractor. The canes should be about the width of a pinky, which means it’s sturdy enough to bear the fruit clusters of the growing season, but flexible enough to tie down. Lastly, it needs to have an internode length of about a fist. Nodes hold the buds that will become the shoots, and it’s important there are enough buds to provide the fruitfulness needed from the cane.
Lee Miller of Tukwilla Vineyard notes the youngest vines in the vineyard should always be pruned last because the process can bring them out of hibernation due to their shallow root structure. Established vines have no trouble sustaining hibernation during the pruning process thanks to their robust root system.
Spur pruning is a less common method in the cool region of the Dundee Hills. While some members do spur prune, this method is traditionally found in warmer climates like Napa. Rather than replace the fruiting canes each year as is typical, they are allowed to remain. The previous year’s producing shoots are cut back, leaving spurs which will produce two new shoots when growth begins. Every Spring, shoots will grow off those same canes (called cordons), and the following winter all shoots will be pruned back to the spur.
Once the canes have been pruned, crews can begin pulling last year’s growth – the brush – out of the trellises. This process is extremely physical and made much easier by the Oregon rainfall which helps the old canes slip through the wires with less friction. When brush pulling is complete, all that remains is the vine trunk and the one or two canes tied to the lowest fixed wire.
Many vineyards will mulch the brush to provide additional nutrients back to the soil. If you’re extremely resourceful and lucky, you might be able to snag a few old canes for a wintertime barbecue; the smoke they provide pairs well with any meat (and wine!) and is highly prized by grill masters.
Next month we’ll explore the different approaches vineyard managers and winemakers take to tying down their canes. Numerous factors can influence this decision including the type of vine, the type of wine being used, and the fruitfulness of the block of vines. We’ll also look at the role cover crops play in the health of the vineyard and the quality of fruit production. If the weather begins to warm, there might even be early signs of bud swell!
Photography by Mick Hangland-Skill