Canopy Maintenance

First days of summer

With the long summer days, our vines have burst to life, filling the vineyard back up with their lush greens. Although this June has been a little cooler and wetter than last year, the vines look amazing with everything on track for an excellent harvest this fall.

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These past months, we’ve been busy managing the canopy  – selecting and removing excess shoots and gathering and positioning them into the trellis system as they grow.

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Pinot Gris – shoot selection

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Seyval – shoot positioning

After flowering last month, the grapes are slowly beginning to develop. We have noticed, however, that due to a rather rainy period during the flowering of our Acadie, these vines have experienced the outcome of coulure. Coulure is the dropping of flowers, often due to rain or wind during the flowering period. As each flower is potentially one grape, this leads to some clusters not developing as they should. They end up being rather loose, with some grapes either missing or very small.

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L’Acadie coulure

This is not as bad as it looks though, as although the yield will be reduced, the loose clusters allow for increased air circulation making the grapes less susceptible to rot in humid conditions. Also, as there are fewer grapes, those that are left will ripen more quickly and have a more concentrated flavor, which is all better for wine making.

Aside from the Acadie, all our other vines are looking great.

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Now, after a cool June, all we can do is wait and hope that the hot summer sun will come back to us and start ripening our grapes!


Breaking ground

Very exciting things are happening for us here at the winery! After planting our vineyard 4 years ago, we are now ready to leap into phase two of development – construction of our winery!

This winter we received our manufacturing license, which means we now have the green light to move ahead. But planning for construction of the winery involved some big decisions to make. One of them being whether to start fresh with construction of a brand new building, or to use and work within an existing horse arena that we have on the property. As a major reason why we took over my Grandpa’s retired horse ranch was to keep the land (and his life’s story) in the family, we decided that keeping the arena standing was important for us.

Painted barn

So, we decided to build our new winery in the arena, to sit atop where my grandpa, my dad, and I, among many other family members, all rode our horses for years.

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Staking out our future winery in the arena

Then in February, we broke ground!

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Luca, of course, had to help out with the digging

The next step was to pour the foundation…

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then the framing began…

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and within one week it was done! The finished product is a 70 x 35 foot winery, with 14 foot high ceilings. And we couldn’t be more happy with it!

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At the right of the winery, in front of the large door, will be our covered crush pad. To give us the option, our crush pad will also extend to outside of the arena. To do this, we had some massive doors built into the side.

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Laurent and Luca on our future crush pad

The next step includes all the plumbing and electrical and the pouring of our cement floor. We are well on our way to being done for this years harvest in the fall!

In addition to construction, we have also been at work in the vineyard. Compared to the record breaking temperatures we experienced last year at this time, the spring we have had this year has been considerably colder and wetter. But regardless of the weather, the vines need to be pruned!  So, dressed in gum boots and rain coats, we set out to give our vines their annual haircut.

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As these 2.5 acres are our test plot, we have experimented with various methods and techniques to contrast and compare the vines productivity. Originally we planned on spur pruning the Pinot Gris and cane pruning the Epicure, L’Acadie, and Seyval Blanc as we have read that each of these varieties produce better with those methods. But, last year we tried both pruning methods on each of the varieties and found there was no difference in their quality or productivity. So, as spur pruning is relatively easier to do, we decided to use this method throughout the vineyard.

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With the pruning done and construction well on it’s way, we now have some time to sit back and wait for the sun to spring our vines to back to life.


It’s countdown time!

It is the most exciting time of the year! All the hard work has been done for the season and now it’s up to Mother Nature to dictate our first day of harvest.

Pinot Gris

Pinot Gris

After following one of the hottest and driest summers, we thought we might be harvesting early September. But now we’ve entered a cooling spell that has pushed harvest off until, most likely, the third week of September.

Seyval Blanc

Seyval Blanc

As the grapes continue to ripen and increase in brix, the birds are increasingly enjoying eating them. Thankfully we installed netting on the Pinot Gris and Acadie. To see whether the birds were really a threat to us and if nets actually made a difference, we decided not to install netting on the Epicure… and this is what we have left:

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Epicure – a feast for the birds

Lesson well learned. Next year we will be installing netting on ALL of vines.

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Pinot Gris -protected behind the nets

So what do we do while we are in countdown mode? We prep! The fermentation room is sparkling clean and has been reorganized to include two 200L stainless steel tanks, 7 additional carboys, and even a baby 24L French oak barrel that are all waiting to be filled with fresh juice.

We are all very excited and anxious to see what wines 2015 will bring!


Hot, hot, heat!

It has been the hottest and driest summer that we have seen in years! Beginning in May, we had record breaking heat and it feels as though the sun hasn’t let up since then! For our vineyard, this weather is amazing as everything seems to be about two to three weeks early. This means that there is no doubt our grapes will ripen to the ideal levels this year, which also means we will have the potential to make some amazing wine!

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The drought conditions, however, has also meant that we’ve had to water the vines this summer. Particularly the vines that are growing along the rocky and gravelly sections that braid throughout our vineyard. Originally thinking that we would have too much water being located here in the Fraser Valley, we didn’t install an irrigation system. So, thankfully the Belgian brigade were all here to help us water by hand.

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Laurent, Luca, and Fabio driving out the container of water

Fabio, Marie-Line, & Jean-Marc bailing buckets

Fabio, Marie-Line, & Jean-Marc bailing buckets of water

Over these past weeks the grapes passed through véraison, the process where they begin ripening that results in a change in colour.

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Véraison of our pinot gris

This ripening, however, also means the grapes are becoming sweeter and sweeter – and a delicacy for the flocks of local birds. To prevent losing too many grapes to the birds, we decided to install a netting system.

Laurent preparing the nets

Laurent preparing the nets

The nets also help (somewhat) in deterring the three deer that seem to be increasingly stopping by to enjoy our excellent selection of grapes. These three deer have become Laurent’s most recent nemesis – driving him to endlessly patrol the vineyard on bike, armed with an old Tibetan bell, ineffectively trying to scare them away. The scene does make for a good laugh.

Final nets installed

Final nets installed

Currently, we are monitoring and measuring the sugar and acidity of the grapes. From our hot summer weather this year, the grapes are measuring a higher sugar content compared to this time last year.  Now all we have to do is wait patiently until the time comes to harvest!


Summer sun and véraison!

With the summer sun high in the sky, our vineyard is simply thriving!

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Being the first year that we left our vines to produce grapes, we had no idea what the result would be.  All we were able to do was wait to see if all this work we’ve done would be worth it. Earlier this spring, we waited with anticipation until we saw the vines flower – and they did! We then worriedly waited to see if any berries would form – and they did!  Since then, we have been waiting to see if the grapes would grow and have the chance to ripen… And here, our expectations for our very first harvest year have been surpassed!

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Seyval Blanc

In fact, all our varieties are producing what is looks to be an incredible harvest of beautiful, healthy, and RIPE fruit!

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Seyval Blanc

Last week, the Pinot Gris reached the stage of véraison, which refers to the onset of ripening and the increase of sugars (future alcohol) in the fruit. You can actually see this happening by the changing colour of the grapes – from green to rose – like in the photo below. With a number of weeks still ahead of us of warm and dry weather, we now feel confident that we can successfully grow Pinot Gris right here in Yarrow!

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Pinot Gris

Our Acadie grapes are actually already deliciously sweet and will probably be the first variety ready for harvest this year!

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L’Acadie

Lastly there is the Epicure, which have tended to be a bit behind the other varieties since planting. They are also producing beautiful grapes, but will need a bit longer to ripen this year… they are still giving a strong ‘green pepper’ taste, which should hopefully burn off in a few weeks time.

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Epicure

In the meantime, we’ve been working at maintaining a health canopy that has good air flow and allows the sun to penetrate the whole vine and reach as many leaves as possible. This involves pruning the top and sides of the vines, as well as pulling some leaves around the grapes to ensure the winds can reach them – which helps to keep the grapes dry from any moisture and therefore, prevents mildew or bunch rot.

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Laurent and his pruners!

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Pinot Gris after some leaf pulling

This week we’ll begin testing the sugar level of the grapes, which will tell us exactly how ripe they are…  and ultimately their potential for wine making! Very exciting times!


Training and pruning

As you can see, we are a little behind in our blogging this year (… is it really August already?!).  My only excuse is that we’ve had a lot on the go in the vineyard these past 6 months and now, we are already well into our growing season!! But, before I begin posting about that, I’d like to just quickly jump us back to February when we began training and pruning the vineyard for the first time.

Because there is such a vast variety of training methods to choose from, the task of selecting one for your own vineyard can be daunting – and this certainly was the case for us!  The method selected is far more important than you may think – it is not simply a job of keeping the vines from dangling on the ground. Many dozens of different training techniques have been developed throughout time and across the globe, some of which have been in use for centuries, such as gobelet, and some for just decades, such as Scott Henry and Smart Dyson. Basically, the different methods can assist you in, to provide some examples, controlling vigorous vines that produce too much foliage and not enough fruit, increasing exposure of the foliage to light, improving the air movement through the leaf canopy and thus reducing the risk of mildew or rot, or simply making it easier for you when it comes time to prune or harvest. Many of these concerns are part of canopy management, a relatively new term which refers to how the architecture of the leaf canopy can be altered and manipulated in order to beneficially influence the microclimate around the vine.

As we are basically the first to grow vines for wine here in the Chilliwack area, we spent a lot of time considering multiple factors in order to select the appropriate method. In the end, the method we chose for training our vines is called the Guyot system, which is a traditional vertical shoot positioning system that was named after Dr Jules Guyot, a 19th century French scientist (Yes, I do my research!).  Training and pruning is so complex, especially when you are trying to learn from reading rather than having someone actually show you! But, basically, this system involves training one or two fruiting arms along a main wire. There are two different methods to this system: single or double Guyot. Whether you use the single or double method really depends upon your grape variety and many of the other factors mentioned above. For us, we decided to try the traditional double Guyot system for our Pinot Gris.

Pinot Gris - Double Guyot System

Pinot Gris – Double Guyot System

We also thought that next year we would try to use the spur pruning method for this variety, so while we were pruning this year we tried our best to select the strongest and best situated canes that could ultimately remain in place as the permanent cordon along the fruiting wire.

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Pinot Gris – Selecting and training the permanent cordon

For our other hybrid varieties, including Seyval Blanc, L’Acadie, and Epicure, we decided to use the single Guyot method. It was intended that we would use cane pruning for these varieties, which in short means that rather than having a permanent cordon, each year we will need to select a new shoot to train along the fruiting wire.

L'Acadie - Single Guyot System

L’Acadie – Single Guyot System

As this is our first year, we simply had to make a choice and begin pruning and training, even though we had little concrete assurance that what we are doing is actually the appropriate method for our vineyard site, climate, and varieties.

One thing we did discover right away was that, beginning in late February, we had left training and pruning a little too late. This task took us much longer than we thought it would, and even though we finished by mid-March, many of the vines were already gearing up for spring and a lot of liquid was seeping or ‘bleeding’ from where we cut. Although this bleeding is technically not harmful for the vine, the seeping can last up to 2 weeks. For us, it did end up effecting some of our vines as the sap continued to flow and then jellify over the new spring buds below. Next year, we’ll begin this process much earlier and will work on finding some techniques to prevent these negative effects from bleeding to happen again.

But, all this learning part of the adventure!! Right?!

In regard to the training and pruning, after this first year when we will allow the vines to produce grapes, we will be able to see first-hand how successful they were. We can then sit down to assess and revise our selected methods as we see fit. Until then… we have to just wait and see!


Then, comes summer

It was just over one year ago (May 21, 2012) that we planted our first vines. Considering it has been only 13 months,  it’s amazing to think that this…

Little guy in his new home

has grown into THIS!!

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I think it is safe to say that our vines are very happy here!

With all this growth, we have been busy this past month tucking the shoots between the wires and pruning off any sucker shoots along the bottom. Because we will be cane pruning all our varieties, except for the pinot gris, we have decided to just let the vines grow in all their glory this season. We will select the cane for next year during the winter months, when the canes are stronger and more pliable, making it easier to bend along the bottom trellis wire. However, we do have to prune off the tips of the vines to maintain some control and ensure they don’t grow too far beyond our trellis system.

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Before pruning

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After pruning

For the pinot gris, we will do spur pruning and have already begun to train a few along the wire, like in the photo below.

Pinot gris, year two

Pinot gris, year two

It is so exciting and encouraging for us to see how well they vines are doing. It’s actually beginning to look like a real vineyard!!

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