August 15, 2016
Grapes are at or near veraison in Vermont vineyards, which signals the start of fruit ripening. This is an important time of year for a few activities. First, bird damage can be expected to begin and increase as fruit ripen. Birds will harvest your berries just a day or two before you’re ready to, so if you don’t have damage yet, don’t think you’re out of the woods. Netting is the best method of protection. Auditory scare calls, propane cannons, and inflatable ‘used car lot’ balloons are sometimes used as well, but their effectiveness is questionable and their annoyance factor significant. Dr. Alan Eaton from the University of New Hampshire wrote a good guide on prevention of bird damage in fruit plantings, available at: https://extension.unh.edu/resources/files/Resource001797_Rep2514.pdf.
Now is the time for plant tissue testing as well. Petiole samples may be collected at bloom or veraison, and comparisons between years or blocks should be based on the same time of collection.
Samples should be collected separately for each cultivar or block. In each sample, a random collection of 75-100 petioles should be collected from throughout the planting. Petioles should be collected from the most recent fully expanded leaf on the shoot, not across from the fruit cluster as is collected for a bloom sample. Just remove the whole leaf and snip the petiole (the leaf ‘stem’ off with your pruners. Gently wash each sample in water with a drop of dish detergent, then rinse fully and place in an open-top paper bag to dry. The closest analytical lab for grape petiole analysis is the Cornell Nutrient Analysis Laboratory . Please note that they now have partnered with Agro-One Services. It is recommended that you contact them before you send any samples to confirm that recommendations will be sent along with the analysis and to confirm costs.
Video about petiole sampling: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8EHbojLfXek
Start making plans for harvest and crush now. This may be a good time to thin out any lagging ‘green’ clusters that developed from secondary buds and are lagging in ripeness. Remember, you’re looking for crop uniformity. You can estimate yield by counting clusters on a few representative vines and multiplying by the typical cluster weight for your vineyard. If this is unknown, use 0.25 pounds (113 grams) per cluster, which is the average we have recorded at the UVM vineyard for Minnesota cultivars from 2010-2015. Your formula should look like this:
Estimated tons/acre = average # clusters/vine * 0.25 lbs/cluster * # vines per acre /2000 (pounds per ton)
For the UVM vineyard, where we have 726 vines per acre [43560 sq feet/acre / (6 feet between vines * 10 feet between rows)] = 726, the crop estimate for 50 clusters per vine is:
4 tons/acre = 50 * 0.25 * 726 / 2000
Four tons per acre is a good crop for mature, healthy vines for most cold climate cultivars; some vigorous vines in good health may support higher crop yield but I wouldn’t push mush more than 5.5 tons per acre lest you compromise ripening. If you have too many clusters, thin out the smallest and greenest ones to get your target cluster number. This exercise will help you plan lugs, bins, and tank space, as well as allow you to communicate that information to any wineries you plan to sell to.