With the vines dormant, things look pretty quiet in the vineyard during the winter, but there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes to ensure the quality of next year’s vintage. One of the major tasks undertaken by our vineyard crew is pruning both of our vineyards. Our pruning program requires that our vineyard crew passes two times through the vineyard. The initial pruning clears out all the tall canes and brush, leaving just the two main shoots of the vines. As the weather warms, our crews will go back out into the fields a second time for the critical final prune cut. The final pruning cut is a very important task that helps set up the crop size on each vine for the year ahead. Our crews will shorten the number of buds on each vine with the hope that each bud that we leave behind will produce a couple of grape clusters come spring.
Some would question why is it necessary to make two passes instead of one? By delaying our final cut for pruning, we lessen the time the open cuts are exposed to potentially damaging bacteria and fungi that can infect the wood. While a lot of other factors will determine what our final crop size will be, pruning is the first step in setting the stage for a successful 2021 vintage.
The vineyard is also extremely green this time of year due to the cover crops which we plant in December. At Purisima Mountain Vineyard, not every block gets a cover crop every year, but it is done now in a rotation with a block being planted with cover crops every 3 – 5 years depending on the block. When we do not plant a cover crop, the natural grasses and other winter plants are allowed to grow, promoting more diversity and bringing more biodiversity to the farm. We do this at Thomas and Judith Beckmen Estate Vineyard by planting every other row with cover crops each season.
Cover cropping is an important part of biodynamic farming as it allows us to provide a natural means of fertilization for our soils. Our cover crop is a mix of grass and legumes that include climbing peas, vetch, and beans. The legumes have nitrogen fixing nodules on their root systems which naturally improves the health of our soil. We will allow these to keep growing until they start to flower.
After flowering, we will mow each row and then run a disc to incorporate the beneficial, organic plant materials into the soils. Other benefits from cover crops are that they help reduce soil erosion — especially on the steep slopes at Purisima Mountain — and improve soil moisture.
Winemaking is a year-round cycle and just because the vines are dormant doesn’t mean that we can take a break as winegrowers. So even though things look quiet, we are already hard at work creating the 2021 vintage.