Ah pruning: Dormant winter months mean it is high time for it. Lucky for us, we had hundreds of mature vines to work with and an experienced guide at Grey Bear. Through our discussions with the Fanslers, we had come to terms on an agreement that effectively fast-forwarded our progress by three years or so. Not only did we have a harvest of grapes to work with this fall, but perhaps more importantly, we have access to the knowledge and experience of these two that only decades of grape passion can offer.
Asher and I were soon equipped with shiny new pruners and sheathes to attach to our pants for quick-draw access. Naturally, Dave had to show us what do with them but we have basically become regular Clint Eastwoods of the vineyard. Pruning was just as I had read about in theory, only entirely different once we were in front of a vine with growth all over the place like something straight out of the Forbidden Forest. And yes, that is snow in the picture. Pruning is typically not a tropical affair around here but an activity to engage in during the winter months facing any conditions this climate throws at you. Like sledding or making a snowman…. Except it’s work and devoid of joy.
Mom and dad even had the opportunity to join in on the fun.
In these pictures we are pruning Vignoles, a white grape varietal that can toe the line between sweet and semi-sweet, depending on when harvested, and very popular in the Midwest. We left 2-3 buds per shoot and clipped off all the old growth. Dave uses a two wire cordon system which works really well in Missouri. Vignoles can be susceptible to black rot (a nasty fungus) which needs to be managed during the spring rains. Netting is required just prior to harvesting in early fall as the canopy does not offer the cover afforded by other grapes and the aerial flanking by birds can be devastating.
Dave was a patient teacher as we were all a little afraid of cutting anything, and in our defense, it all looked the same. We slowly began to decipher what was old growth and where the buds for the coming year would be shooting out from. There are also shoots coming off the base of many of the vines, what are referred to as “suckers” that will sap nutrients from the rest of the plant if left alone. We learned to let these suckers suck for the time being, because if spring rolls around and we get the unfortunate surprise that the rest of the plant is dead, the sucker can be trained up the dead wood to be the new trunk and cordons can begin from it in the years that follow. This basically provides a natural support system for upward training and an established new “trunk-in-training” without the hassle of getting a new plant or cutting and digging a hole. A second pass is required early in the spring, when the vine is showing it has life, to remove all suckers.
This was also the first opportunity Dave had to check out our vineyard-in-the-making. Of course, he wanted to know first and foremost if we had dug any holes two feet deep to see what we were working with beneath the soil.
A slow winter month also meant more time was afforded for experimenting with winemaking. Juice concentrates were exciting and yielded some great wine, but we were ready for a new challenge: wine from berries. According to the official TTB regulations, specifically 27 CFR Part 24.10, this is known as fruit wine.
Fruit wine: wine made from the juice of sound, ripe fruit (other than grapes). Fruit wine also includes wine made from berries or wine made from a combination of grapes and other fruit.
If you are wondering, I have read 27 CFR Part 24 in its entirety, and if you would like to jump into this endeavor, I recommend drinking no less than one standard 12-cup coffee pot. Alas, this provides a perfect opportunity for a question: According to the TTB and the pages and pages of legal jargon, what is wine called that is made from the juice of sound, ripe grapes? As is customary, winner gets a mention in the next post. (sorry, this is the best I can offer until we are legal).
The four of us all enjoy blackberry wine from multiple wineries from Missouri and Kentucky, so it was the logical choice. It probably goes without saying that fresh blackberries are difficult to find in February.
The usual process began and where else? In the kitchen of course, because this was the best option at the time. With hands, utensils, and ingredients flying in every direction and Lily and Blossom watching in awe, we turned the kitchen into a lab. We merrily concocted and filled one bucket of blackberry wine along with another blackberry/Concord (we needed a viable substitute when the blackberry juice alone was unable to fill both carboys). The latter we coined as “Concord Black”.
The Concord Black and the pure batch were now starting the long journey to the bottle; wines that were destined for a specific use from the moment we purchased the blackberries.