Training the Vines

The vineyard started to look like something. Especially when we stood at the end of each row and looked down it, the vines seemed to be doing well. Standing in our kitchen and looking across the little ditch at the vines we could clearly see the acid-green froth of young leaves. We both still cherished the illusion that growing vines would be a fairly simple and easy matter. The realization that the process is fraught with difficulties came to us gradually.
To urge the stem of the vine upward to the cordon wire you have to strip away all but the two most vigorous shoots. You keep two in case one breaks. The join between the old, brown stokkie and the fresh green shoot is the weak point and you have to support the fresh growth with a string tied between the irrigation wire and the cordon wire. Then you must twist the fresh shoot around this string (or clip it to it) because the vines often forget to support themselves. This work is slow and hard on the knees because you have to squat or kneel at each vine. It doesn’t sound like much but when there are one thousand, three hundred and eight vines, it takes its toll on aging joints!

There are various fungal threats to grape vines and they need to be prevented rather than controlled after you’ve spotted them. Once they get a grip they can do immense damage and if they hit you at the wrong time you can end up without any harvest at all. The two main problems are Downy and Powdery mildew and you have to spray the plants regularly to keep them in check. The fungicides fall into two groups – those that operate as a contact, surface spray, and those that absorb the spray into the plant. The spray regime has to vary because after multiple applications the fungi can become resistant to a single spray. After every decent bit of rain you need to spray and you have to be very careful to spray for Botrytis at the right time too. This is a fungus that can cause bunch rot and once it gets going the effects can be disastrous. It is essential to treat the bunches before the berries swell and completely enclose the stem.
On most estates spraying is done by tractors with big blowers but we are way too small to afford a tractor so our spraying is done with a backpack. This is really hard work. When the vines are young you only need to make one pass down each line, but when they get older and the canopy thickens up, you have to spray each row from both sides.