24 Feb Activity returns to Yakima Valley vineyards
The tranquility of winter vineyards moves to a flurry of activity as crews return to the vines to begin preparing for the 2020 vintage.
Grower and co-owner of Two Mountain Winery, Patrick Rawn starts the process every February by looking at each vineyard block to build a pruning plan to achieve his desired quality, style and yield goals for each of the vineyards he farms.
Grapevine canopies don’t naturally fall within the ideal range, therefore they need to be pruned. Pruning stimulates the vines like a gentle back rub. If all goes well, Mother Nature brings warmer temperatures to begin the growing process. One of the most important aspects of pruning is canopy management, a technique employed to optimize yield, improve fruit quality, reduce disease risk and facilitate other vineyard management techniques.
“This is arguably the most important task of the year for vineyard management,” Rawn says.
The Yakima Valley’s lack of water and high-drainage soils are important considerations on how the vines are pruned. The Valley’s soils tend to have poor nitrogen content and excellent drainage, making the vines work harder to send other nutrients to the grapes while spending less energy on foliage. Sandy or rocky soils drain water further into the ground forcing roots to dig deep, working harder still. A combination of lack of nitrogen, strong drainage and healthy organic nutrient matter is considered perfect dirt. It may be “bad” for growing almost anything else, but it is “good” for the grapevine. Knowing the soil type of the vineyard helps determine its water needs and how the vine should be pruned for optimal growing.
A wet winter typically translates to high moisture content in the soils during spring. If the site has a tendency to hold moisture, irrigation is delayed.
The practice of monitoring the soil flows into the spring and summer. Grapevines don’t need a lot water, so once the soils have dried enough to keep the vines struggling, growers turn to another water conserving technique. Drip has become the irrigation of choice for growers in the Yakima Valley because it allows for careful control of water usage.
Winter vineyard landscapes can be as picturesque as the spring bloom or fall harvest colors. Pruning not only keeps vineyards looking charming to the untrained eye, but it sets the stage for the entire growing season. Understanding the seasons in the vineyards heightens the appreciation of the pre and post-pruning vineyard landscapes.
Although the primary purpose of pruning is for the current growing season, the benefits and thought process help maintain sustainable growing for years to come.