So the snow is FINALLY gone, and we are back out in the vineyard. Until just recently, the spring of 2018 has felt more like winter, with over a foot of snow falling on April 15th. What that means to a vineyard manager is the window of opportunity before the vines break dormancy is shorter than normal, but the list of tasks that must be completed is just as long.
Pruning is the most time-intensive spring vineyard task, and it takes us a strong six weeks to complete. Our goal is to finish pruning our 3,000 vines by the end of April, and despite the late snow storm, we have managed to get it done. We must give a huge shout-out and thank you to our good friend Tim who showed up on his days off to prune in pretty much any weather imaginable...we truly appreciate the help!
So now there are literally thousands of pruned canes lying around on the ground that must be cleaned up. Enter the flail mower...a beast of a machine that without hesitation will grind up wood with a two inch diameter. The flail mower is mounted on the back of our tractor and runs off the PTO (power take off), chewing up and spitting out anything in its wake. It may take three or four passes per row, but canes as long as six feet have now been reduced almost to powder. The flail mower also mows the grass while it is grinding up the sticks, so two jobs get done at the same time. The only thing the flail mower can't get to is the pruned wood that has fallen in the dirt between the plants. Enter Al...also a beast, who rakes out every row by hand to move all remaining debris into the path of the flail mower. The rake out is key to managing any disease that may have over-wintered on the vineyard floor. Once the rake out is complete and the pruned canes have been pulverized, a copper spray is applied while the vines are still dormant to ensure a clean start to the growing season.
By now the days are getting longer, the nights slightly warmer, and the vines are beginning to stir. While our vineyard generally does not see buds opening until late-May, the first sign of breaking dormancy is what we call the sap run. Similar to what happens in maple trees in the spring, the liquid inside the vine begins to move up, and it runs out the pruned ends of the canes. This is a sign of a healthy vine, and it means winter is finally (hopefully) behind us. Summer...here we come!
Join us again next week as we take a step back in time to discuss what made us want to start a vineyard in Wisconsin in the first place, and how a program at the University of Minnesota made it all possible.