Tag Archives: Pruning

Bud Break and Grape Harvest Prediction

Budbreak 2016

Bud break this year was 3/14, almost 3 weeks later than last year which is a very good thing!  Based on my predictions the last 4 years we have averaged 183 days from bud break to harvest.   This year we will delay a week for riper fruit…so my prediction is 9/20/16.

How much you ask?  Well, this last year we had a disastrous fruit set which resulted in a 60+% loss in fruit.  After all is said and done with new bench graft plantings and grafting over the Merlot we will have 3000 vines.  I’m estimating a 90% efficiency at 3.5 pounds/vine. I’m hoping for a better fruit set than that, but still being cautious I’m guessing 4.7 tons of Pinot Noir and 350 pounds of Sauvignon Blanc.

I’ll offer a free bottle of wine to the person who comes closest to the pounds of Pinot grapes we harvest this year. Post here on my Turtle Vines Facebook page in the next week or email me and I’ll publish the names and guesses…and we will see who wins 5 1/2 months from now.

Stay tuned for the results!


Grafting – Part 1

canes in frig

Why am I posting grafting?  We just planted our vineyard in  2010 with 3130 Pinot Noir vines…or so we thought.  Nurseries, like anyone else, make mistakes.  Of the 3200 vines we ordered, we ended up with 50 Merlot’s, 7 Chardonnay and about 23 vines that the graft didn’t take.  You can’t tell any of that until you have fruit on them 2 or 3 years later!

In 2012, our 1st fruit year, we ended up putting the Merlot into the Pinot Noir since we could not tell the vines apart. For 2013 made the Merlot into Jelly.  In 2014 we made a little Merlot and the picking crew cut the rest off before I could stop them.  Lastly, in 2015 we left the Merlot to ripen for an extra 3 weeks and it is now getting ready to bottle in a few months…and it tastes great!

So why are we grafting them over the Pinot Noir?  Since they ripen at different times than the Pinot Noir and the 50 Merlot are scattered in the vineyard with 3000 other vines, they are a pain to keep separate.  You have to mark them, leaf differently, and keep them netted longer.

So, we will lose a year of production on those vines…but they would not have been used anyway.

How do you do graft?

  • First you have to mark the vines you want to graft over
  • Next you have to obtain budwood…in our case, when we pruned the vines we collected the canes and cut them into 4 bud lengths.  We then bundled them up, put them in a plastic bag and will refrigerate them until we graft in March.  (see picture above)  Keep them around 34-36 F but don’t freeze them!

For the rest of the Grafting process…tune back in mid-March

canes ground


2014 Work Log

flower row


The above picture was taken late February.  It shows the status of the vineyard…the vines are pruned and tied, vines marked for removal or grafting with either green tape or a grow tube, extra water line installed (not pictured), clover is finally growing after a very dry winter but no wildflowers (rows marked with a flag had expensive wildflowers sewn in last fall).  Still have work to do but this post will show the work in our 5th leaf for Turtle Vines and I will update it throughout the year.

Jan 28              Pruning                              45 hrs (all hired)
Feb 17-21       Tie Canes                             9
Feb 25            Cane chipping/2nd drip   14 (8 hired)

Total to date                                               68

Old Math – How to calculate Harvest 2013


Last February I estimated that the 2012 harvest would be 1300 pounds…and we had 1190 pounds with the raccoons getting the other 100 pounds.  So…pretty close.  How did I get so lucky?  Originally I had planned for 3 pounds/vine in my farming plan and I had 2900 vines that were OK and in the first harvest you get 10-20% of the final number (I used 15%) so I got 1305…rounded down to 1300 pounds.

What about this year?  Using the same formula I have 3100 vines (of 3130 total) and in the second year you get 50-60% so I should get 5115 pounds.

Now, it you really want to get precise, you would actually measure the number of buds per vine (looks like 7 right now), multiply by 1.5 grape clusters/shoot (typical for Pinot noir), multiply by 80 grams/grape cluster with 3100 vines…and you get 5736 pounds.

Finally, and most importantly, how many bottles with that produce?  Well…there are 2.378 gal/case and we started last year with 1190 pounds and got 102 gallons…then you average the top crop estimates and we might get 5425 pounds which will give us 195 cases (minus what the raccoons will get).

For all those math inclined…try the calculation at home to double check me. Sort of reminds me of an algebra question in the 8th grade with Mrs Nancy Wheeler.

One last thing on the subject.  2012 was a great growing year without any heat spikes, fantastic fruit set, no frost events and a great harvest season.  I’m guessing we won’t be as lucky this year, so perhaps 150-175 cases.  If it really is that big (and I’ll know in July), I’ll have to sell some fruit this year as that is to much for me to make given my current equipment.

Later in the year I will have a “Harvest Total Estimate” contest, and the winner will win a bottle of wine.


Vit 131 – Working with your Winemaker

winemakerPictured is John Mason of EMTU Vineyards with his Pinot noir on the right and Turtle Vines Pinot noir on the left this last fall.

I just finished a 4 day course at Santa Rosa Junior College entitled “Working with your Winemaker”.  In essence, the class is designed to teach the vineyard owner/manager the important parameters in the vineyard that effect wine, and how to make it better.  Winemakers can only make good with with good grapes, they need great grapes to make great wine!  That is our goal, great grapes…and then great wine.

Here are the key items I took from the class

* Great vineyards only have 3-4 shoots/foot.  This should balance the growth between grapes and shoots/leaves.  If you try for to much fruit it won’t ripen and you will probably get mold/mildew.

* Red wine needs to be water stressed between set and version (small berries to when they turn red).  This sounds odd, but the vine needs to look a little weak before you add water…and then after that only water to 40% of what a normal plant would need for a month or so.  This is good for color and flavor.

* Leaves around the grapes have to allow dappled light to the clusters, and in some cases you strip all the leaves.  This will give you more intense flavors.

* In the vineyard many times less is better.  So you have to thin leaves,  remove shoots and clusters, prune to only allow the correct amount of fruit.  It seems like the vines want to grow, and you want to only allow it to grow how you want it to grow.  If you do it correctly, this will produce a “balanced” vine and “balanced” wine.  Use this term next time you are at a winery and see what they say.

* Rule of thumb – if the shoot is shorter than the first wire…no clusters, up to the second wire…1 cluster, above that 2 clusters.

* It is best to have a cover crop to help stress the vines as it gives them competition for water and nutrients.

* Lastly, the Winemaker is always right


Doug Williams – Turtle Vines grower/vintner

Fall Pruning

CropMost folks prune in the winter months of January/February. Mainly it is because if you prune in the fall the vines will bud earlier in the spring, and if they do and you get a hard freeze then you will lose most of your crop. Here in Sebastopol, I have not seen hard frosts the end of March to mid-April. So, I am going to begin pruning now as it will take me at least 80 hours this year to prune and probably 120 hours in future years. This will spread out my work thoughout the year, without the mad rush in February/March/April. Hopefully I’m right about the frost timing.

November 10 – 1 hour
November 12 – 4.5 hours and 4.5 hours hired
November 13 – 5.5 hours and 5.75 hours hired (1050 vines completed)
November 23 – 4 hours hired fixing drip lines
November 24 – 2 hours hired fixing drip lines
November 26 – 5.5 hours hired and 4 hours pruning
December 11 – 3 hours pruning
December 28 – 3 hours hired pruning
December 29 – 4 hours hired weeding
December 31 – 6.5 hours hired pruning
January 2 – 6 hours hired and 3 hours pruning
January 3 – 3 hours pruning
January 7 – 3 hours pruning … Done!

Total – 58.25 hours vs 2013 plan of 80 hours…off to a good start, better than plan!