Controlling the direction of the growth is important in the new vines to give easy access for air flow management, sun management, and provide adequate support for stress-free vines. When young vines are being trained, the green tape helps to hold the two producing vines, or 'cordon', to the wire. Our smallest vines still have milk cartons around the base, which we use in lieu of snow banks to help keep the young vines insulated during the winter. We purchase end-run or over-stock milk cartons from various dairies, and the waxy paper stands up to the water and helps keep the vines protected from wind, snow, and nosy small animals. After two or three years the vines are strong enough, and the tattered milk cartons are collected, their work is done.
We began our 2017 harvest with our Sauvignon Blanc. We harvest most of our vineyards with our mechanical grape harvester. It is a tall machine that straddles the trellis and uses special plastic rods, called bows, to shake the grapes off the vine. Depending on varietal this shaking will remove only the grapes and some leaves, leaving behind the rachis, which is the structure that holds the berries in a cluster. The harvester has a bucket conveyer on each side of the vine that the grapes fall in, which then carries them to another tractor with bins. A harvester can either be self-propelled or towed by a tractor and ours is pulled by a tractor because our vineyards have some steep slopes. We do still hand harvest of some of our steepest rows. When it comes to picking grapes, harvesting by machine is the most efficient method of removing grapes from the vines. In our vineyards, we can do roughly an acre an hour, so between 2-4 tons of grapes. In most cases the grapes go from being on the vine, crushed and into a tank for fermentation in a limited amount of time often less than an hour. Grapes that are picked by hand take more time because the grapes sit in bins under the vines until the bins can be picked up and taken to the winery.
Another reason we find the machine harvester a success is that our winemaker, Joe, can “blend” from the vineyard by choosing which rows be wants picked on any given day.
An example of a rachis after mechanical harvesting. Even though the grapes are gone, the leaves around are still whole and undamaged.