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Adventures in Napa, Part II

After leaving Napa proper, we ventured out to our vineyards near Yountville, California.  Over the last few years my dad and one of his brothers have taken viticulture classes at Napa Valley Community College so he gave us an impromptu lesson on the different kinds of way to train grape vines to grow. And now, dear friends, I pass this very so useful knowledge on to you. May you win Jeopardy with this information.

  This is what grape vines look like when they’ve been harvested and are now dormant…and haven’t been pruned. I feel like kids could break these things off and use them as swords in the backyard. Until, of course, someone’s eye got poked out. On that thought, scratch my first idea. Poor eyes.

 These vines are head trained cordon pruned. And in plain English: The grape stalk is trained to come to a single point and then branches into two shoots. These two shoots are laid down on the wire and they hang out there forever, until they go kaput. They’re pruned so that there’s only two buds, which gives them four grape clusters per two buds. Sooo…there’s forty clusters on this one vine. This kind of pruning decreases the life of the vine because of all pruning that happens. Each year they cut the new growth down to the lowest bud and then split it into two new branches for the new year. Leaving the vine much more susceptible to viruses.

A sick grape vine, that’s just so sad. I wonder if it whines?

This kind of grape vine is head quad-trained cane pruned. In plain English: The grape stalk is trained to come to a single point and then split off into four shoots (hence quad). Each shoot has a cane (the thin thing) and that’s laid on the wire. Then when it comes time to prune, they cut the entire cane off, except one cane for this year fruit growth and a two bud cane for next years growth. This pruning method allows the vine to live longer because there’s no splitting involved so the vine is less susceptible to viruses.

Confused yet? So am I. Wheee. I think I need a glass wine.

But when do you prune these silly things? Well, that depends on the type a grape! You can prune from December until they bud. So the average drop dead day for Chardonnay is March 15th. The average drop dead day for Cabernet Sauvignon is April 10th. Basically you can prune anytime after the plant goes dormant BUT before the buds form. You also need 48 hours of dry weather for the wounds to close up. If water gets into the wounds you get viruses. And then you have sick vines, and then they whine.

This is called bud grafting. A French grape vine is put on an American root stock to prevent viruses from killing off the plant. How is this done? I’m glad you asked. You take the root and cut a notch in it and then you take a bud from the French grape vine that you just pruned and shove it in the notch and wrap a fat rubber band around it. And voila, a virus resistant French grape.

This? This is just gnarly. Actually according to my dad, this Goblet or Wagon wheel. But I’m going to call it Gnarly Old Hands. Or something.

And now, please excuse me, I need a glass of wine to process what I just wrote. Dear lord. Tomorrow I’ll tell you about my exciting times in Yountville at Bouchon. Excitement happened, and not necessarily good excitement occurred. My life, always an adventure.

2 comments to Adventures in Napa, Part II

  • Judi

    Gnarly old hands look like something out of a Tim Burton movie. However, this series made me want to go and explore Napa! Maybe for an actual honeymoon. :)

    • Rene

      You know, I never thought of that! You’re totally right. I should call up Tim Burton and tell him about them and then demand a cut ;). That’ll pay for my baking/cooking shenanigans!