Cold climate grapes: Determining an appropriate training system for improved yield

Final Report for FNE14-806

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2014: $14,935.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Richard Lamoy
Hid-In-Pines Vineyard
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Project Information

Summary:

The purpose of my project has been to study the feasibility of increasing yield and quality of cold climate hybrid wine grapes through matching training systems for the vigor type of the varieties grown. This will utilize hybrid wine grape varieties well suited to the Northeast. My goal was to collect useful data to be shared with others through in field meetings, flyers and posting to an online forum and my vineyard website www.hipvineyard.com. 

There are four training systems implemented for each of four grape varieties with three replications of each. There are two single fruiting wire systems (either cane or cordon pruned) and two split systems with two fruiting wires.The four training systems are: Top Wire (High Wire) Cordon – TWC, Vertical Shoot Positioned (Mid Wire Cordon) – VSP, Modified Geneva Double Curtain – MGDC and Scott-Henry.   By demonstrating these, other area vineyards have been and will be exposed to the differing systems they might not otherwise be familiar with, especially the Scott-Henry and the Modified Geneva Double Curtain of my own design. They will be able to visualize the planning and training processes that went into the systems used in the trial project. 

This year the trial had unexpected results for yield based on the past experiences of the last couple years.  Like previously mentioned we had a very cold winter in 2013/2014 and experienced a heavy bud loss on both the Marquette and Mn 1200 both of which are normally very hardy. Yields in 2013 were quite high especially on the Mod GDC which lead to incomplete hardening of the buds for winter.  That lead to lower than expected yield because of the lower shoot numbers and unfruitful shoots because they arose from basal buds. 

The Petite Amie and St. Pepin had more moderate yields on all training systems and the buds survived the winter in good shape. The Petite Amie grapes were all of approximate equal yield and quality across all four training systems.  They were all fairly close to ten pounds per vine.  St Pepin on the other hand really shined on the Mod GDC this year.  Quality was similar across all four training systems but the Mod GDC yielded 25.69 pounds . The Top Wire yielded 14.77, VSP was 10.82 and Scott Henry 13.60 pounds per vine.  Based on the rough times gathered from the timesheets in general the Vertical Shoot Positioning system requires the highest time input, followed by MGDC then Scott Henry and lastly the TWC.

Results this year were less striking in differences than previously. I attribute this to heavy freeze damage of some vines in the winter of 2013/2014. The heavy yields of the previous year did not allow the vines to harden sufficiently before cold weather which lead to bud damage. The project did indeed show that certain training systems may give better overall responses which can lead to increased sustainability.

Field days provided outreach to researchers and growers. The project year began with an in field pruning demonstration meeting attended by 17 individual growers and interested parties. I covered the basics of the trial vineyard layout and pruning basics for each of the training systems. Another field demonstration was held in August to show how the vines had progressed through the summer which was attended mainly by Extension personnel from the northeast US and Canada. A final meeting was held post harvest to recap the season and had the best attendance with a great mix of growers and Extension personnel.

For future vineyard plantings I am leaning towards using TWC (Top Wire Cordon) and MGDC (Modified Geneva Double Curtain). TWC seems to be a great fit for moderate to low vigor hybrid grapes while the MGDC appears to be able to control vigor of high vigor types while giving a great yield. We need to be cautious however that the actual yield be kept in line with the growing season. Cooler summers will support less grapes and ripen the wood on the growing shoots for winter hardiness.

Results are available at http://hipvineyard.com/hipvineyard/research/research.html

Introduction:

In the past I have noticed that the new grape hybrids we grow don't seem to do as well on some training systems as others.  We have been given basic guidelines in the past as to what varieties might perform better on certain training systems, but that was based on outdated and sometimes scant research.  This was often times based on vinifera types rather than the new hybrids. The grapes often did not perform as expected and often the quality wasn't as it should be.  I decided to try out a number of training systems on different growth vigor types among the grape varieties to see if matching the vigor to the training style could improve the yield, quality or both.

The farm name is Hid-In-Pines Farm and Vineyard and is located at 456 Soper Street in Morrisonville, NY. In the past it operated as a fresh vegetable and fruit farm as well as a small dairy. The farm is currently operating as a vineyard and began a winery operation in 2010. The vineyard currently consists of seven acres of cold hardy wine grapes. The latest expansion took place in 2012 when four acres of cold climate wine grapes were added. The existing outbuildings were turned into the new farm winery and the wine from the grape crop is marketed in the new tasting room. The buildings are finished with a rustic barn board siding to maintain the authentic look and character of an old farm. Wine sales are supplemented and promoted through direct sales at seven local Farmer’s Markets in Clinton, Essex and Franklin Counties of NY.

The technical advisor on this project is Justine Vanden Heuvel of Cornell University in Geneva, NY. Tim Martinson, head of Viticulture Extension was involved in outreach support from Cornell Cooperative Extension also in Geneva. Anita Deming at Cornell Cooperative Extension for Essex County in Westport. Anna Wallis and Amy Ivy of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Clinton County were also involved in Extension Outreach.  This year some members of Lake Champlain Wines – the local grape growers association – attended the outreach meetings where we combined this research project with some hands on demonstrations of trellising and training methods as well as showing the growing grapes in the trial to participants.

Project Objectives:

The purpose of my project was to study the feasibility of increasing yield and quality of cold climate hybrid wine grapes through matching training systems for the vigor type of the varieties grown. This project utilized hybrid wine grape varieties well suited to the Northeast. This project built upon information gathered in three past grants (2009, 2010, 2012) using the existing vineyard on the farm for the study. It was my goal to collect useful data to be shared with others through in field meetings, flyers and posting to an online forum and my vineyard website www.hipvineyard.com . I planted an additional trial vineyard in 2009 anticipating this study, to compare 4 cold hardy varieties- 2 reds and 2 whites (108 vines each or 432 vines total). There is a low/medium vigor red (Mn1200), low/medium vigor white (Petite Amie) and a med/high vigor red (Marquette) and med/high vigor white (St. Pepin). In the year of 2010 the trellis training systems were put in place and the vines trained to them. This provided the opportunity to demonstrate to other farmers some ways to establish trellising and train the vines to it. This initial structure and training is a very important first step towards improved yields and quality. There were four training systems implemented for each variety with three replications of each. There are two single fruiting wire systems (either cane or cordon pruned) and two split systems with two fruiting wires. By demonstrating these, other area vineyards have been and will be exposed to the differing systems they might not otherwise be familiar with, especially the Scott-Henry and also the Modified Geneva Double Curtain of my own design. They will be able to visualize the planning and training processes that went into the systems used in the trial project. The four training systems are: TWC-Top Wire (High Wire) Cordon, VSP-Vertical Shoot Positioned (Mid Wire Cordon),Mod-GDC - Modified Geneva Double Curtain and Scott-Henry. See the next section for further information. Also, see complete report uploaded at the end of this report for more illustrations of training methods. It was the goal of this to quantify differences in both yield and quality of the fruit obtained by pairing up varieties with certain training systems to maximize yield and quality. 

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Dr. Justine Vanden Heuvel

Research

Materials and methods:

Work began in the vineyard doing preliminary dormant season vine pruning keeping in mind the training systems. It was determined that our target number of 5 buds per foot of canopy would be used so all vines were dormant pruned to that number when  possible. As a result of heavy production in 2013 and a late harvest that year many of the shoots did not harden off well on the two red varieties, Marquette and Mn1200. As a result they were pruned back to a viable bud and in many cases that meant to the cordon. Because of that the bud count was low and later affected the yield quite a bit.  A decision was made to not make a bud count post pruning since we could not tell at that point which buds would add to the crop. The Modified GDC and Scott Henry have double the canopy of the two single wire systems of TWC and VSP, therefore the number of buds was approximately double. We did not weigh the pruned canes this year as the dead canes skewed the weights too much. Shortly after spring pruning, the training systems were once again established. These systems include: TWC - Top Wire (High Wire) Cordon, VSP - Vertical Shoot Positioned (Mid Wire Cordon, Mod GDC - Modified Geneva Double Curtain and Scott-Henry. There are 12 rows in the trial split equally between these 4 systems giving 3 repetitions of each. All four varieties of grapes are in each row with 9 vines of each split between 3 panels of grapes (the 3 vines between posts). See the Vineyard Layout pdf file attached for clarification.

In Season Pruning and Training- As the growing season progressed the vines were trained and maintained to the appropriate training system. Vertical Shoot Positioning - VSP The VSP shoots were trained between the catch wires. By using movable catch wires, trapping the shoots between the wires is assisted. Before much growth, the wires are moved down to the lower clips. As the majority of shoots gets longer than the space between the wires (10-12 inches), the catch wires are moved back up to the clip above. This is done in a sweeping motion and the majority of shoots is caught up and brought upright. The process is repeated until the shoots reach the top a few weeks later. As the shoots grew over the top wire by a few feet, they were hedged off to just above the top wire. Top Wire Cordon - TWC The Top Wire Cordon (TWC) vines were kept tied to the top wire and the new shoots were trained downward and “combed” to open the canopy up. If the vines touched the ground as above, they were “skirted” back. Scott Henry The Scott Henry system is a double fruiting wire system and is similar to the Vertical Shoot Positioned System using the same wire layout. With it the first set of catch wires uses one wire as the upper fruiting wire for a cordon. The normal VSP fruiting wire (mid-wire) is used as the lower fruiting wire. With this system the upper wires shoots are combed upwards and the lower fruiting wire shoots are combed downwards to give the appearance of the following picture. Modified Geneva Double Curtain- Mod GDC The Mod GDC System uses a special angled bracket to provide separation of the two fruiting wires. The northern fruiting wire is higher than the southern wire so that the foliage of the upper wire does not shade the fruit on the lower wire. Ideally during the growing season the shoots are all combed downward between the adjacent catch wires. For this trial there was minimal combing done so the study would only reflect the difference attributable to the type of training and not the amount of combing. In a normal operation the combing would help eliminate shading further of the clusters and lead to riper fruit sooner with somewhat higher sugar levels. Pictures were taken as the year progressed to help document the results of these operations.

During the growing season all the vines were monitored for proper growth and development during the growing season by myself and my assistant Richard Lamoy, Jr.. Each repetition was trained to its appropriate training system but otherwise were handled the same way. Leaf pulling was be done by me and my field assistant to open the canopy up and help reduce fungal pressure and needed sprays, thus having less environmental impact. 

Bird and Wildlife Deterrent  -This year we again implemented a totally enclosing netting system over each row to try and keep the birds and small mammals out of the vines. In the past we have lost some grapes to them so we installed the netting in hopes of keeping them out. The netting is a 14 foot wide net draped over the top of the vines and attached at the bottom to fully enclose the vines. The net is just stretched from one row to the next without cutting and is kept in full lengths of a couple thousand feet. The system worked good on the birds, but was not effective for keeping the raccoons and skunks out. Again we used 6 Live Traps to catch as many as quickly as we could and within a few days had caught eight raccoons and two skunks.

The time needed to implement the different training systems was roughly logged for the various operations needed for the particular system. This information was put on a shared flash drive and the drive went bad after the season ended so I don't have exact information (only summaries from timesheets).  This shows the importance of backing up technology often to dual media.  You have a failure in the equipment when you least expect it.

The ripeness was monitored by a combination of brix (to measure soluble solids), pH, and TA (total acidity). Samples of 50 grape berries were collected from each repetition of each variety (12 rows x 4 varieties= 48 samples) every week to 10 days beginning September 1 through picking in late September and early October. This provided 4 sample collection periods. The 50 grape samples were collected in zip lock type bags, crushed and used for samples. Prior to crushing, the samples were weighed to provide average grape berry weight. 

Maximizing return and quality demands that results of any testing be available quickly so on-farm testing was used. Electronic testers were used for measuring the pH and TA (acids) at the vineyard. Brix (soluble solids/sugars) were measured with a refractometer. The testing on the samples was performed by Richard Lamoy, Sr.. When optimal ripeness and quality were reached, the grapes were harvested by variety and all grapes weighed and recorded on a per vine basis along with a cluster count. This weight and cluster count information is useful in determining the number of retained buds at subsequent dormant pruning. This process is also very useful in putting values to the yields and quality obtained for comparative and analytical purposes. 

By measuring and recording results for each variety trained to the four different systems, the best training system or systems can be determined for each grape type. This assumes that there will be a “best method or system” for each type, such as low vigor white wine grape. This may or may not be the case and is what this training system trial has been trying to determine.

The vine yields were recorded per vine in pounds. The quality was measured through sugar(brix), pH, and TA (total acidity). Generally the higher the sugar and pH and lower the TA, the better the quality of the grapes.

Research results and discussion:

This year the trial had unexpected results for yield based on the past experiences of the last couple years.  Like previously mentioned we had a very cold winter in 2013/2014 and experienced a heavy bud loss on both the Marquette and Mn 1200 both of which are normally very hardy. Yields in 2013 were quite high especially on the Mod GDC which lead to incomplete hardening of the buds for winter.  That lead to lower than expected yield because of the lower shoot numbers and unfruitful shoots because they arose from basal buds. 

The Petite Amie and St. Pepin had more moderate yields on all training systems and the buds survived the winter in good shape. The Petite Amie grapes were all of approximate equal yield and quality across all four training systems.  They were all fairly close to ten pounds per vine.  St Pepin on the other hand really shined on the Mod GDC this year.  Quality was similar across all four training systems but the Mod GDC yielded 25.69 pounds . The Top Wire yielded 14.77, VSP was 10.82 and Scott Henry 13.60 pounds per vine.

Because of the impact of the extreme cold and the severe bud damage the information gathered does not give a definitive answer to my original question of if matching a training system to a vigor type can lead to improved yield and quality. More studies and data collection in this trial could possibly help get a clearer picture of the answer in the future.  I have concluded however that there are more factors involved in making a training system decision than simply basing it on highest yield or greater quality. We also have to take into consideration for getting the wood to ripen properly before winter in order to maintain an adequate number of viable buds. This would be more important in more northerly locations and higher elevations where it is colder. I will be looking at reducing yields to a level that looks like it will allow for more hardening off of the canes while keeping a profitable yield.  I would rather drop some clusters as needed than not having enough for a good yield.

Research conclusions:

Over the last few years since I planted this trial and set up the training systems I have had numerous requests for information on making the brackets I developed for the Modified Geneva Double Curtain system. While I warned against implementing the system on a large scale until more information is gathered, I gave the schematic plan for making them.  There has been a lot of interest in growers setting up a similar systems.  Several growers have driven a considerable distance to see the training systems for themselves.  I see that as a positive as it is always better to see the results first hand.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

I see the outreach part of this project as a continuing process and hope to continue the dissemination of the results for the next year or more. For 2014 the outreach consisted of several methods of dissemination.

Onsite Field Meetings - The project year began with an in field pruning demonstration meeting attended by 17 individual growers and interested parties. I covered the basics of the trial vineyard layout and pruning basics for each of the training systems. Another field demonstration was held in August to show how the vines had progressed through the summer which was attended mainly by Extension personnel from the northeast US and Canada. A final meeting was held post harvest to recap the season and had the best attendance with a great mix of growers and Extension personnel. The growing grapes were shown to the attendees and noted the differing yields on the different training systems. Visible differences in canopy density, disease pressure and crop response were noted. I discussed how these things can lead to increased sustainability by influencing pesticide requirement and crop returns.

Throughout the year I have fielded quite a few inquiries about the training systems trial and the potential these growers might have in adopting some of the systems themselves. There have been several visiting growers from other regions investiating my methods and practices.

The website for the vineyard has a research page where growers can go and learn more about this project, both in previous years and the current year. The link to this is http://hipvineyard.com/hipvineyard/research/research.html
A summary of this study is being prepared and will be available to all interested as either printed material or in an Excel Spreadsheet format at the website.

Project Outcomes

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

In general it is certainly possible to increase the value of the wine grapes both through increased yields and improved quality. Furthermore net farm income could be increased by getting higher returns for the crop along with diminished labor requirement. Some of the treatments required substantially less labor input during the growing season as well as harvest labor. In this study, the harvest time was not tracked per vine but on a per training system basis (each row). Based on the rough times gathered from the timesheets in general the Vertical Shoot Positioning system requires the highest time input, followed by MGDC then Scott Henry and lastly the TWC. This year the MGDC for the Marquette and Mn1200 were somewhat higher than normally because the lower crop yield (from freeze damage) increased the overall vigor of the shoots.  This project has the potential to increase overall yields of cold climate grapes. While not as spectacular among all varieties it has been observed that double or more yield can be attained by properly matching the growth vigor of a variety with a particular training system. The increased yield will translate into higher income to the grower no matter if he sells the grapes or converts that higher yield to additional wine.

Future Recommendations

While I did run into some unexpected conditions this year (high winter bud damage) I feel that the information I was able to gather will contribute to a better understanding of what is needed to increase grape yields in hybrid grapes. Previously there was very scant information on the best training systems to use for the cold hardy hybrids, simply because they are a relatively new development.

As I was beginning to look at the possibilities of enhancing yields and quality through training system selection I encouraged the Northern Grapes Project to include this type of work in their USDA Specialty Crops Research funded grant application. That project is now a multi-state University level research program and has completed a couple years of data collection. They have another year of data collection coming up. Between the information to come out of that project and the information gathered in my NE SARE project we should begin to be able to interpret best practices for possible training system adoption and implementation.

I am interested in continuing to collect data for another year or two and at some point run some detailed data analysis on the collective results. I feel this information will help guide growers into possibilities of increasing their yields and improving sustainability and profitability.

For future vineyard plantings I am leaning towards using TWC (Top Wire Cordon) and MGDC (Modified Geneva Double Curtain). TWC seems to be a great fit for moderate to low vigor hybrid grapes while the MGDC appears to be able to control vigor of high vigor types while giving a great yield. We need to be cautious however that the actual yield be kept in line with the growing season. Cooler summers will support less grapes and ripen the wood on the growing shoots for winter hardiness.

I did implement TWC in my latest 3.5 to 4 acre vineyard at training last autumn and this spring based on previous information gathered. The site it is on is low/moderately fertile so I don't think it needs the extra vigor control of the MGDC but if I see it does in the futture the changeover is relatively easy.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.