Every vineyard owner must perform, year after year, the
monotonous chore loving task of trimming the vines.
Which means turning a tangle like this:
And do that over and over and over again a few thousand times. And to get that all done before the next winter sets in.
Trimming vines is not haphazard at all, because how a vine is trimmed and trained can have a significant impact on the health of the vine and on the quality of the wine it will eventually produce. So there is actually a method to the madness.
As I always say, a good wine maker is always planning and seeing into the future. Not just tomorrow, but years down the road, much like a Wizard or Shaman (a.k.a: a Taltos in Hungarian) looks into the future. They are not only thinking about how to best age a wine, but they are also planing a wine growing season years in advance. So in this case trimming the vine simply follows a design that was pre-determined and laid down by the vine trimmer a year ago. For those that can read the signs, the trimming task has already been planned. In other words, how and why one makes this year’s cuts are not arbitrary at all, but were entirely pre-planned 12 months ago.
Can you see the method of pre-planning from the two pictures above? Look at the untrimmed vine picture and try to see the planning that was incorporated into the vines growth last year. When you think you have found the hidden method, and only then, take a look at the solution provided below.
Okay. So how was this done? To answer this, we must first of course recognize that the method of trimming here is a cane and stub cut. In this method one long cane and a short stub, of two to three buds, are left on the vine each year in each direction along the support wire and everything else is cut away (also called a “double Guyot” method of trimming and training the vine since two canes and two spurs are left). The two retained canes provide this year’s growth, while the two retained stubs will be used to grow each cane for next year’s growth. To trim a vine using this training regime one simply finds last year’s stubs, selects one of the canes on each stub, and removes pretty much everything else (not forgetting to leave two stubs for next year of course). This is further explained in the images below:
Why leave two stubs with two buds each and not just one stub with two buds or two stubs with only one bud each? After all, we only need two canes next year, so why let four canes grow? Simple answer: insurance. Frost, disease, mechanical injury may all damage any of the buds left for next year’s growth, so two buds are left to grow four canes in total as a hedge against such disaster.
So, in the end, not so difficult after all, once you get the hang of it.
I’m looking forward to really figuring out which branches to trim next spring! Question – to ensure that my fruit is setting, what should I add to the soil around the vines? I want to make sure that I don’t have too much nitrogen.
You are quite correct that you want to avoid adding too much nitrogen, as this can cause excessive vegetative growth and over cropping which can weaken the vine. If your vines are newly planted in soil that was undisturbed under grass for three years or longer there should be enough nitrogen and other minerals in the soil to satisfy the vine’s first year of growth. In this case you can for now simply keep an eye on the leaves: if they look dark green and healthy, then you do not need any nitrogen. In following years you can add a little nitrogen. You can use a complete mineral fertilizer to do this (get a bag labeled 15-5-10 if you can find it since vines don’t normally need strong applications of phosphorous or potassium (the second and third number)), but I recommend simply adding a little compost/manure mix to the soil as this also adds important organic matter and trace elements the vine needs. Next spring you can mix in about three to four inches of a compost and horse manure mix (in a 10 parts compost to 1 part old manure ratio) into the first few inches of soil in your vine row. The manure provides the nitrogen, and use less if you think your vines were over fertilized the previous year. Each year, watch your vines: if the leaves look a little light in color, add a little more nitrogen the following spring, but if you get excessive vegetative growth one summer, then consider applying less or not any nitrogen the following spring. By the time your grapes are ready to produce their first full crop (in the third or fourth year) you should have a good handle on how to best keep the vines happy.
For trimming newly planted vines next spring your job should be fairly easy. For those vines that did not reached the bottom wire (most likely due to a week root system), trim them back to one or two buds to help them put energy into root development the second year. For vines that did extend above the bottom wire of your trellis and otherwise show strong healthy growth, simply cut off all but the strongest, straightest cane that extends above the bottom wire, as this will become the main stem of your vine. Then tie this cane to your bottom wire and cut it so that approximately two buds are above the bottom trellis wire and three buds are below the wire. Remove all other buds below these top five buds so you retain only a total of five buds at the top of last year’s cane (now to be your main vine stem). These five buds will grow into five canes the following (next) summer. Then in your third spring year you pick two of these canes and tie them to your trellis, and two of the canes you spur. Simply remove the fifth cane as it was there for insurance in case one of the others died due to winter frost. The fourth year will be the big decision year, as you have to decide if you want the canes from year three to become permanent cordons (if one died in the winter, use one of the canes on last year’s spur to replace it) or if you want to cane and stub each year as shown above. This will in part depend on the type of wine you are growing, your climate and long term pruning preferences.
Who are you? YOU ARE AMAZING! I’ve been researching and reading so much about tending vines because I want to make some of my own wine from my own grapes. You really have a knack for breaking it down. I love it. How did a Yank get involved in growing grapes in Hungary? So awesome. I love stories like this and your knowledge is substantial. About the vines – they’re looking great and I had to buy dowel rods because they’re wanting to climb upward already. They’re very green, but my soil is a little on the clay side and I didn’t want to have too little potassium, etc. in the soil. I will do the compost thing next year (I have some brewing in the corner of the yard!) and see how we fare. I’ll contact you for sure to make sure I don’t under or over prune. Do you do this for fun or for career? Thanks again for all the help! – Brandi
Thank you for such nice feedback. Feel free to ask questions or add comments anytime.
I ended up in Hungary for probably the same reason many men end up doing things they never expected: because of love. My sweet, darling and lovely wife is Hungarian. My wife in the one with the paperwork, permits and tax status to sell our modest wine production. I am mostly a consultant/trainer by profession, and I am otherwise quite happy to simply work in the vineyard caring for the vines, and making the wine. No doubt a farming “in the blood” heritage from my grandfather who was a farmer in Missouri all his life. And of course lets not forget being able to ride around on a tractor (what man does not love playing with a machine that has hydraulic implements).
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