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Advice for venture growers

If you are thinking about your own vineyard, study

Posted: April 6, 2012 6:00 a.m.
Updated: April 6, 2012 6:00 a.m.

This column was originally published in the Ventura County Star on May 28, 2011.

After grapes are harvested - usually in the fall - the grapevines will usually go untouched until the vine goes dormant in January.

This dormancy, depending on the region, usually lasts until the beginning of March.

During the dormancy the canes are pruned to provide optimal growth for the next harvest. This needs to be done before the temperatures rise in the early spring. When the temperatures rise the sap migrates and concentrates in the areas where the canes were pruned. This is called weeping and is a vital beginning step in the life cycle of the grapevine.

In April or early May, bud break occurs. During this time the vines are very vulnerable to frost. In May or the beginning of June, flowering occurs. This is when the grapes are pollinated over a one- to two-week period. The temperature must be at least 60 degrees for flowering to occur.

As the grapes mature, their flesh and skin tannins start to develop. This is called fruit set. The grapes begin to change color in August. This is called veraison. This also is when the vineyard crew will start "dropping fruit." They will thin out the grape clusters to, hopefully, ensure that the grapes that remain on the vine are more concentrated.

Many winemakers believe dropping lesser developed fruit or keeping just the excellent fruit is imperative to making quality wine. Some large bulk wineries do very little of this, as making as much wine as possible usually outweighs all else. The grapes are still sour and the sugars start to develop after veraison occurs.

During and after veraison, it is very important that you maintain the canopy of the grapevine. The canopy acts like a curtain, surrounding the grape clusters with leaves and shoots. This canopy management includes vine spacing, shoot spacing and leaf removal to help air circulation.

In cooler areas, leaf pulling will give the grapes much more sun exposure. Canopy management also reduces the chance of rot or mildew on the grapes.

As the grapes develop and the sugars increase, heat plays a big role in when the grapes will be ready to harvest. The warmer it gets the faster the grapes and sugar develop. One exception to this is when the temperature exceeds 95 degrees. When this happens the vines shut down, as they try to conserve water, and no growth takes place.

This is just a basic general overview and many other things have to be completed to have a successful vineyard. I say this as I see many small vineyards are popping up all over Ventura County.

If you are thinking about planting a vineyard at your home, I highly recommend "Guide to Growing Grapes" by Wes Hagen, vineyard manager and winemaker for Clos Pepe Vineyards. This step-by-step manual is perfect for a first-time home vineyard. The book is available at
© Ventura County Star

As well as writing a wine column for the Ventura County Star, Russ Briley, long time Santa Clarita Valley resident, recently completed the Wine Studies program at COC. Russ and his wife Nancy also own Nuggucciet Cellars, where they produce small lots of Pinot Noir wine. Visit Email Briley at


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