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Hilling Up & Taking Down


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#1 JDM

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Posted 02 December 2004 - 09:33 AM

interesting article from mark chein the local extension agent

Hilling Up and Taking Down: A Lesson from Jan Waltz, Waltz Vineyard, Lancaster, PA


Hilling up and taking down is right up there with filling out your income tax among things that growers do not enjoy doing. But the past two winters are painful reminders of the climate challenges to vinifera viticulture in our region and the wisdom of old in protecting those tender graft unions. A comprehensive survey done by Dr. Tim Martinson, extension viticulture specialist in the Finger Lakes revealed that about 25 percent of vinifera acreage by the lakes was killed outright by winter injury in 2004. There are a variety of explanations for the damage, but clearly, those who hilled up their vines fared better under these conditions. When you look at the loss numbers extrapolated out into the wine, not hilling up cannot be justified.

Jan and Kim Waltz own Waltz Vineyard in Manheim, PA (Lancaster County). Itís not the coldest place in the East but they have taken the precaution of hilling up their vines from the first year, and while they have suffered trunk and bud injury, especially in 2001, 2003, and 2004, they have not lost vines entirely due to their precautions. Jan is one of our best growers. He farms Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot on Scott Henry and is well known among wine makers in the region for his superb fruit, and his prices reflect that quality.

The key to successful hilling up and (especially!) taking down are straight rows and straight trunks. Here is a strong argument for laser planting, which offers the additional value of uniform graft union position from the surface. Trunks generally need to be straight from all angles, but if they are to bend out of the 90o position, they should do so in the vine row vertical plane. Sensors are non-judgmental so like all things mechanical, they appreciate uniformity if they are to do their jobs well. As trunks move further out into the row middles, so does the grape hoe, making your hilling up process more difficult and the take down near impossible. That means, when planting, trunks need to be rigorously trained using a training stake and frequent ties. New vines can and should be hilled up from the first year and for a sensor hoe to work, it must have a pencil rod or rebar to activate.

The type of hoe is important. Frankly, the venerable Green Hoe can do a fine job of hilling up, but doesnít perform as well taking down. It is generally manually operated which, according to Jan, is a slower and less effective way to perform this task. Same goes for the Clemens. Jan likes his Braun multi-purpose hoe for weed control and graft protection. The machine was purchased from H&W Equipment in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario - http://www.vineyardmachines.com/. Hans and Wolfgang Woerthle have provided excellent equipment and services to the vineyard industry all along the East Coast and Canada. The hoe can be front, hip or rear mounted on one side or two. Double sides require absolutely straight rows and a skilled tractor operator. The standard set up is the single side mounted hoe which is easy to operate and very accurate. The Braun is a lighter duty machine and subject to damage if it hits a rock. There is no break-away system so it is possible to bend shafts. It has some vertical play, so rocks and obstacles can be ridden over. Jan said the entire system, including a variety of blades needed for the multiple tasks and a rear mounted frame cost less than $5000. Before you scream, think of the value of the vines, then the grapes, then the wines. You can scream while you write the check.

As I mentioned, there is a special blade for hilling up, not unlike a small moldboard plow and one for taking down. In the spring, the take down blade removes the biggest section of the berm, leaving a small ridge down the middle. Jan will leave this to dry for a week or two then uses the grape blade to take this down, along with the small mound left around each vine. It is critical to remove this soil so the vine cannot scion root. Once you are accomplished at this, you wonít need any hand follow-up work around the vines. Jan has observed that young vines, especially those with crooked graft unions, tend to scion root more readily than older vines so itís very important to keep the graft union clean in the first five years of hilling up. After that, there will be little scion rooting.

When planting, Jan encourage growers to make sure the graft union is straight and about 2-3 inches above the soil surface. Recommendations are often made for 3-4Ē, but this makes it difficult to fully cover. The thickness of the dirt mound over the graft will determine the amount of protection it receives from cold air. A snow cover adds insulation and is definitely helpful, but canít be counted upon. Ideally you are mounding up to 2-4Ē above the graft union. Remember, the dirt will settle with time so build up your initial berm higher than is actually required.

Weeds are generally not an issue with the hilling up process, unless they are woody and over two feet tall. The blade is like a plow and will cut and bury weeds, which decompose over the winter.

For Finger Lakes growers, a day trip to the Niagara Peninsula would be tremendously helpful. Some of the larger vineyards start hilling up in early September. A return trip in the spring can yield valuable lessons in taking down. All vinifera vines are hilled up. In SE PA, Jan is hilling up by the end of October, after the leaves have dropped. Soil condition will affect how well the soil rolls and stays in place, so try to get it at the right time Ė moist but not too wet or dry.

Jan can hill up at 4-5 mph and do about an acre in 30 minutes. It takes some speed to roll the soil up on the vine properly, so you donít want to drive too slow. There are hydraulic side slope adjustments that are essential to keep the berm even on hilly terrain. It is clearly an easier process on flat ground. When hilling up, the blade is about 6Ē from the vine. When taking down, the blade can be right up against the vine. Both can be dangerous for the vines long term health so a careful inspection of work should be done. Get off the tractor and look at vines to be sure they are unharmed. In general, Jan says that more damage is done to vines when hoeing weeds than by the winter protection process.

Rocky soils, of course, are not ideal for the grape hoe. Clay and silt loams, soils with sand, and lighter clays work well. Heavy clays can be difficult to work. Soils with smaller rocks are generally okay. Large rocks can be a problem for this and other machinery.

As an extension agent, I urge vinifera growers from SE PA and northward to hill up their valuable vines, especially in vulnerable sites. It is worth the time and effort. And if you do it right, that can be minimal. Jan is a good example of that fact.

Mark L. Chien, Wine Grape Agent
Penn State Cooperative Extension
September, 2004

#2 WineDoc

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Posted 02 December 2004 - 02:26 PM

ohmy.gif Wow!
My vines are newly planted this year. The next day off without rain and I'll be out playing with the dirt.
Thanks JDM.

#3 toomuchwine

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Posted 03 February 2009 - 01:26 PM

Bump
Don Kilcoyne
Catharine Valley Winery
Seneca Lake
Finger Lakes, NY

Every great bottle of wine starts with a person in a vineyard.

#4 oldjenx

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Posted 03 February 2009 - 04:58 PM

QUOTE (toomuchwine @ Feb 3 2009, 01:58 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Bump

Thanks toomuch. I need this kind of info.

#5 toomuchwine

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Posted 04 February 2009 - 03:50 AM

Ralphie (jerk exposed),
I have a afriend growing Sauv. Blanc here in the FLX. It is not recommented for our area as it is generally too cold sensative. Back in '04 he hilled the vines and everything died down to the soil level. By the end of the next season, the sauv blanc covered the trellis again. He even had a little fruit from the bottom buds, but he cut it off early.

Its been a long cold winter up here in NY this year. Seems like I didn't see the sun the entire month of Jan. Standing out in the cold pruning all winter (talking to myself) leaves a man a bit snappy sometimes. I think I'll just have to drink more wine.
Don Kilcoyne
Catharine Valley Winery
Seneca Lake
Finger Lakes, NY

Every great bottle of wine starts with a person in a vineyard.

#6 DrC100

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Posted 06 June 2010 - 09:32 AM

Ralphie (jerk exposed),
I have a afriend growing Sauv. Blanc here in the FLX. It is not recommented for our area as it is generally too cold sensative. Back in '04 he hilled the vines and everything died down to the soil level. By the end of the next season, the sauv blanc covered the trellis again. He even had a little fruit from the bottom buds, but he cut it off early.

Its been a long cold winter up here in NY this year. Seems like I didn't see the sun the entire month of Jan. Standing out in the cold pruning all winter (talking to myself) leaves a man a bit snappy sometimes. I think I'll just have to drink more wine.

And just why would someone attempt to grow Sauv Blanc in the FLX? Why not Malbec? unreal.

#7 Howie

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Posted 06 June 2010 - 10:06 AM

And just why would someone attempt to grow Sauv Blanc in the FLX? Why not Malbec? unreal.

A friend of mine is growing SB in Niagara County, NY. I could have gotten some SB grapes from him last year, but I just don't like SB. He gave me a bottle of his - decent, sound wine, but still not to my liking. He also grows Lemberger, PG, PN, and Riesling - all of which I did make.
Howie Hart

#8 IVAN Z

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Posted 06 June 2010 - 12:46 PM

A friend of mine is growing SB in Niagara County, NY. I could have gotten some SB grapes from him last year, but I just don't like SB. He gave me a bottle of his - decent, sound wine, but still not to my liking. He also grows Lemberger, PG, PN, and Riesling - all of which I did make.

The hardest part is the pulling out and removing the roots above the graft union. But all in all it is worth the effort. I have read that a few of us are having trouble even with Marquette for our zone 4 or Leon millot which I have both with no trouble so far but for the rabbits that seem to prefer them to other vines. I have an own rooted pinot noir vine planted close to my home in Rochester mn that was never covered for two winters now (been renting it) and has grown and produced grapes last year and clusters this year so I wonder if a lot of the trouble is more with the technique of the vineyardist then the grapes alone. I am a hard-a@@ on my vines. I refuse to water or give any growth with any help. It will get what it needs from the environment or not at all. (I do water my Frontenac the day before the picking to help with the high acid) why waste time and effort when in a few years it dies anyway. I donít like fighting the current just let it pass by and I keep my good footing while moving forward with my plans. I have done a few no noís and yet it normally turns out ok. The vines I have now are PN, PG, merlot, SB, and Riesling my Shiraz and grutrimminer did not make the move. smileytoast.gif




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