Left to their own devices grape vines can grow to be 100 yards long in the wild. Like all vines they use ground formation, trees and other plants to climb up and find sun or along the ground to spread out. The trunk of a cultivated vine is the result of extensive pruning.
Since farming grapes in long vines along the ground or climbing up trees is quite inefficient, humans started pruning vines to get more canes out of a single trunk so that the grapes are more clustered together. Vines are pruned in a number of shapes which have evolved to suit different climates, soils, grapes varietals and tools and labor used when harvesting.
The colder the climate the closer to the ground you will usually find the grapes. When temperatures drop in the fall the grapes can still find some warmth radiating from the ground. At the same time, this is very inconvenient when pruning and harvesting so in more temperate climates you prune them at the perfect height for easy access.
In hot a climate you have another problem which is to shield the grapes from too much sun. Trellising creates canopies of leaves where only some sun sifts through the leaves.
One of the most common ways to prune the vines in California today is Vertical Shoot Position, or VSP. It is very easy to work the vines, access to the clusters is at a comfortable working height for grape growers who harvest by hand like we do. Our Sauvignon Blanc (pictured here), Chardonnay and Viognier are trellised this way. It is also easy access for machine harvesting and other mechanical work if the rows are spaced at the right distance.
We direct the rows to the northwest/southeast to make sure there is equal amount of sunlight on each side of the row. Our vineyard next to our Tasting Room is positioned this way and the almost flat valley floor makes it easy to manage.
The steep slopes and many directions in our upper vineyard, 300 ft off the valley floor, makes it impossible for straight lines of vines so instead we are following the contour of the landscape. This is where we grow our high end Cabernet Sauvignon and we need a trellis system which gives more shade and sun coming from a multitude of directions. Enter the Ballerina! A beautiful name for a trellising system and when you look down a row it is if the vines had one hand over their head and a leg lifted to the side. The Ballerina system (a variation of a system called Smart-Dyson) trains every second cane up and every second cane is going down but loosely hanging like the lifted leg of a Ballerina. The upright cane is of course the upright body of the dancer. This gives the right sun dappled light to all the grapes growing up and down the slopes in this vineyard. You can see this in the picture above taken at harvest in our Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard.
If you are interested in learning more about our vines, meet me for one of the Harvest Winemaker Tours in September or join one of our Saturday morning Vineyard Walks.