As soon as harvest is complete, vignerons need to start preparing their vines and vineyards for dormancy.
By Bryan Christiansen
The vineyard cycle is split into 6 different stages throughout the year, each critical to the success of the grape growing cycle. The first five stages are concluded with the annual grape harvest, at which time vines enter the sixth stage: winter dormancy. How the vines are cared for during the winter period is crucial for the success of the next year’s vintage.
As soon as harvest is complete, vignerons need to start preparing their vines and vineyards for dormancy. The time between the end of harvest and the first frost is critical for the grapes, and there’s a long list of essential tasks that need to be completed.
Though the vines appear to be asleep, they most certainly are not. During their dormancy, there’s a lot of microscopic activity happening, with the vines and their roots both active beneath their bark.
Compost and cover crops
It’s important to protect not only the vines but the soil in the vineyard rows, as harsh elements of winter storms and the potential erosion of the soil covering the plant roots are both major threat factors during the winter months.
Protection is often achieved by planting a cover crop such as clover or native grasses, which hold the soil tightly together. Straw and compost can also be used to protect the soil; compost serves a dual purpose, as it protects the soil and supplies vital nutrients that are slowly absorbed.
It’s important to ensure the vines aren’t fertilized too late in the season, as fertilizer encourages the growth of succulent green tissue. If this process is done too late, growth can be damaged and it can lead to other problems, such as plant stress and pest infestations.
Vine pruning and vine health
The pruning season varies from vineyard to vineyard because the climate and the location of the vineyard determine when the task can begin.
Pruning is usually carried out between December and March. Each vine is carefully examined to determine whether it was strong the previous year and to look for any diseases that it might have — such as wood fungus Eutypa, which can be caused by excess rainwater on fresh cuts from pruning.
Pruning also ensures consistency in grape production and allows for proper vineyard management. Pruning techniques vary depending on the grape variety, and the vigneron and their crew will select one or more buds to keep for the coming year.
The pruning process will determine the following year’s harvest even before the vine emerges from dormancy. Depending on the size of the vineyards, the pruning process can take a few weeks or a few months.
Replanting dead and damaged vines
Different factors — disease, harsh weather, wild animals and old age — can lead to the damage and destruction of vines. The average lifespan of a vine is 25 years; however, some vines can live to be more than 100 years old.
Meanwhile, it’s important to ensure the continuity of the vineyard and keep the vineyard rows as complete as possible. Newly planted vines can only produce viable grapes after a minimum of three years, which means any new plants might lower overall vineyard production.
Your vineyard crew will identify severely damaged, diseased, and dead plants throughout the year, and mark them for removal. These vines should be replaced with new plants after the last hard freeze of the year and must not be fertilized during the first year of growth.
Work on the irrigation system
Once the harvest has been completed, the irrigation system needs to be turned off so the vines can acclimate to the arrival of cooler temperatures and lower light conditions. If the vines have tubes around their trunk (often used to protect the trunk against damage from herbicides, sun damage and accelerated plant growth), these need to be removed.
During the day, the tubes create a small microclimate that’s hotter than the outside temperature. However, during the night the temperature is the same as it is outside the tube — these extreme changes in temperature can potentially cause damage to the vines, impeding their transition into winter dormancy.
Equipment repairs and building maintenance
During the busy growing and harvest seasons, there’s little time to concentrate on other activities that are required around the winery. The slower winter season is a good time to inspect the integrity of your structures and equipment to ensure everything is in working order and ready for the next growing season. Implementing maintenance software is one way to make sure you don’t miss important tasks.
Running a successful winery business requires the constant attention of the vineyard and winery teams throughout the year and the tasks performed during the winter months are the key to ensuring that the next harvest will be successful.
Bryan Christiansen is the founder and CEO of Limble CMMS. Limble is a modern, easy-to-use mobile CMMS software that takes the stress and chaos out of maintenance by helping managers organize, automate and streamline their maintenance operations.