Taking on a vineyard project - Merlot

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NorCal

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I met Jane, who owns an acre vineyard 15 minutes from me. She has Cab Sauv and Merlot, two varieties that aren’t well suited for our hot climate. The grapes were close and available, so I bought some Merlot and Cab Sauv grapes last year to use in my Cab Franc blend. The vineyard was lacking some fundamentals of grape growing; pruning, suckering, mildew and pest management. I asked if she would let me care for a row next year (37 vines) and I’ll buy all the fruit, which she agreed.

The vines have been pruned like rose bushes and the overall health of the vines is marginal. This is a picture of how the rest of the vineyard is pruned.
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I did a first pass pruning, leaving extra buds, because I don’t know what the success rate will be for the new shoots. It will take a number of suckering passes because there are a lot of areas new shoots will grow out of.
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The plan is to leave two shoots per spur, two clusters per shoot. I will spray for mildew and try to knock back the leafhoppers as best I can. Wish me luck.
 

jgmann67

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I’m very interested to see how this progresses and compares to the yield/quality from the other vines. Thank you for sharing.
 

NorCal

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I’m very interested to see how this progresses and compares to the yield/quality from the other vines. Thank you for sharing.
I will continue to post as this season progresses. I went back to the vineyard to look at bud development and looks to be pretty good. No bud break yet, but I was confident enough that there were viable buds that I pruned back down to two buds per node.
 

NorCal

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Did my first suckering pass a week ago and the first sulphur spray today. The vines are pretty diseased, but the growth looks healthy.

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You can see the difference between my suckered row and the non-suckered row next to it.

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Boatboy24

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Not sure I understand what you mean when you said "The vines are pretty diseased, but the growth looks healthy". Can you provide some detail? I'm a total amateur looking at grapes/vines. Are you saying the new growth looks good, but the 'base' is diseased? Thanks!
 

montanarick

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Did my first suckering pass a week ago and the first sulphur spray today. The vines are pretty diseased, but the growth looks healthy.

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You can see the difference between my suckered row and the non-suckered row next to it.

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Looks darned good to me. Buds on our vine here in Montana haven't even started to swell although the sap is running.
 

NorCal

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Did a first spraying a week and a half ago and a second shoot thinning pass today. It only has one top wire, so it may be difficult to keep the shoots upright. The shoots on my row (on left) are noticeably taller than the rest of the vineyard.
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NorCal

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Not sure I understand what you mean when you said "The vines are pretty diseased, but the growth looks healthy". Can you provide some detail? I'm a total amateur looking at grapes/vines. Are you saying the new growth looks good, but the 'base' is diseased? Thanks!
The bark on the vine has a years and years of mildew and other growth. The new shoots are looking good.
 

montanarick

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keep it up - quite interested to see how things progress. thanks for sharing
 

GR!

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How long since you took over these vines? Very curious to see how this turns out!
 

NorCal

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How long since you took over these vines? Very curious to see how this turns out!
I was looking for Merlot to blend with the other Bordeaux grape varieties that I had access and stumbled upon this 1 acre private vineyard just a few miles from me. The owners moved into the house, with the vineyard already planted. They would sell the fruit to local home winemakers.
The nice thing is you can’t find Merlot in this area, so having access was nice. The downside was the vineyard was not properly cared for and there was way too much fruit, mildew and a lot of leafhoppers. The canopy fell apart due to the leafhoppers and I was forced to pick what I wanted at 22 brix, before the fruit went bad. So we struck a deal when I was collecting the fruit; I’ll care for the entire row for the season and I’ll buy all the fruit. So, technically I took over the vineyard last September, but I didn’t need to do anything until I pruned in March.
 
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NorCal

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I‘ve been keeping the vineyard owners in the loop and they have mowed between the vines as I asked them too. This noticeably reduced the leafhoppers that were already present. I have a spray for the leafhoppers if they become an issue later in the season. I’ll keep up the sulfur spray every three weeks or so, until verasion.
 

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We’ve had some rain this last week, so I decided to go out to the vineyard for a sulfur spray. It is clear that the shoots on my shoot thinned row are substantially longer than the other rows that were not.

The unintended consequence of this is that the shoots that don’t grab the single wire located a foot above the cordon are flopping over. A few have snapped at the cordon and it was clear that more were going to happen.
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I decided to tie the big drooping shoots to the guide wire. My intent is to have a strong canopy with an established fruit zone.

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A bunch more work to tie up the shoots and I’m not sure if I’m causing other issues, but we’ll see. Clearly two wires, that is 3 feet above the cordon would be a much better design for the Vertical Shoot Positioning that I’m trying to get these vines to comply with.
 
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NorCal

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I sincerely hope you will be able to enjoy the fruits of your effort. ;)
I helped someone out with a Zin vineyard a few years ago. The deal was we tended to it and got the fruit, giving the owner some wine in the end. Hour and hours of work, only to come one day and have all the fruit removed by deer. The entire vineyard was literally stripped clean. I don’t think that will happen here, but I do know that there is a risk this effort will go unrewarded.
 
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NorCal

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I did another suckering pass and removed some laterals. There is a clear difference in the cluster formation between the the row I'm tending to and the vines in the vineyard. The clusters in my suckered and spayed row, on average are 50% bigger and seem to have more berries.

Note: the white on the leaves is sulfur from my sprayer, which put out a pretty heavy dose.



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