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Pruning the vines

By Staff | Apr 2, 2010

Mike White, an ISU viticulturalist, offered grape vine pruning tips last weekend at a workshop held at the Dave Hanson vineyard near Gowrie. The workshop allowed for attendees to get hands-on pruning lessons.

GOWRIE – More than 20 people gathered in at the Dave Hanson vineyard Saturday for a hands-on grape pruning workshop in this southwest Webster County community.

The diverse crowd was comprised of experienced grape growers, others with just a few vines in their gardens and still others that attended out of pure curiosity.

Norm Lewman, of Sac City, said he tends 75 grapevines on his mother’s farm near Moorland and is an officer of the Northwest Iowa Grape Growers Association. He said that although he is an experienced viticulturalist, he routinely attends workshops.

“Although I’ve been doing this for years, I still learn something and it’s good to get as many views as you can get,” said Lewman.

Lewman makes wine from his own grapes and considers his operation a “serious hobby at this point.”

Marsha Phillips, from Lake View, came along to grape pruning workshop with her son, Andrew. Phillips said they are in their first full year of growing vines, which are expected to produce grapes within the next few years on their 1-acre plot.

Marsha Phillips said it was a field trip to a vineyard during her son’s first year of college that sparked his interest in growing grapes. She said she is amazed how the vineyard kept his interest all the way through school.

Andrew Phillips took a viticulture class while in school, his mother said, and soon after graduating last spring, the pair was putting vines in the ground.

Phillips said they are unsure as to where or how they will market their grapes, but have recently joined the Northwest Iowa Grape Growers Association and are attending as many workshops and meetings as they can to learn, as well as to network with others.

“We learn something every single time,” said Phillips. “And we’ve met some very friendly, wonderful people.”

Mike White, an Iowa State University viticulture specialist, presented a short discussion on the grape and wine industry before the attendees went outside for a hands-on pruning lesson.

A particular great place to go for information and questions with anything regarding growing grapes and wine making, White said, is the Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute at ISU.

MGWII is the first of its kind in the state and has been in operation since 2006.

Services in viticulture and enology include grape and wine research, wine lab services, workshops and short courses, site visits as well as one-on-one consultations.

Grape impact

The economic impact of wine sales in Iowa, White said, “has been great.”

According to White, for every dollar of wine sales, there is a $30 economic impact made in the state.

“Vineyards and wineries are providing more to our state than wine sales, especially when it comes to festivals, catering and the agritourism they have brought into our state.”

When it comes to growing grapes, White expressed that it is essential to know just how one will market one’s crop each year.

“If you’re going to grow commercial grapes, you better have a winery or a place to market them,” said White.

The hobby wine-making market, he said, is growing and White encouraged growers at the workshop to look into the different ways to market grapes to those winemakers.

He added that he personally believes that the hobby market is currently bigger than the commercial market.

“A large part of marketing your grapes for sale is to conduct yield estimates,” White said. “You need to know what you will have. Yield estimates are the key.

“The future of grape growing in our state will also mean the additions of cold storage in order to hold the surplus of grapes being produced and make the juice available for wineries all year long.”

Cold storage specifically for juice, he added, is something he believes will be happening in Iowa soon.

Graft is good

The practice of grafting grapes is becoming more widely used as some producers are discovering that many of the varieties that have been planted in Iowa will never be used for wine.

Grafting, he said is beneficial because rather than total elimination of vines and waiting three or four years for new vines to begin producing fruit, a producer can graft a new variety into an existing vine, which will save the time from starting over.

Attendees had a chance to get hands-on pruning experience in Hanson’s vineyard, which consists of five different grape varieties – with some starting their fourth year of growth and others starting their second year.

Pruning, White said, should be considered more like canopy management and is a critical part of growing wine grapes.

According to information provided at the workshop, very little in-season canopy management should be needed if done properly at the beginning of the year. Canopy management starts out with the interaction of the cultivar, vineyard site, seasonal climate, inputs and the trellis system.

White said that for the first time out in the vineyard for the year, he likes to do what he refers to as “long pruning.” This he said is a quick pruning around a certain area that gets rid of the obvious branches that need removing in order to return later, taking a closer look at the vine and do additional pruning to get the fruit to grow where it should.

Vegetative vigor

To understand the vegetative vigor of the vine is an important part of the canopy management, White said, in order for the grower to know how to balance the vine. Record keeping is one way for the grower to know his vines.

White said one of the first things he does before pruning is to evaluate the plant and the variety. He then sizes up the vine by looking at it from end to end and figure out the proper amount of space that particular vine will need to live in.

He then does a quick “cleaning up,” or long pruning. This is where he will take branches that are dead or smaller than a pencil, because they are too weak and remove them

Removing the brush from the site is important, as dead material can aid the spread of diseases.

The grape canopy is managed to improve vegetative vigor, improve sunlight exposure to fruit, foliage and renewal buds, increase airflow to reduce disease pressure, improve the coverage and effectiveness of pesticide applications, facilitate pruning and harvest, promote ripening and increase fruit quality, reduce plant-to-plant variability within the vineyard and to balance crop-to-vine size to reduce chance of winter injury or death.

Contact Kriss Nelson at jknelson@frontiernet.net.

For more information about the MGWII, contact (515) 294-3308.

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