[Noozhawk’s note: In February 2021, Will Henry told Noozhawk that he was about to plant the first estate vineyard for Lumen Wines, the label he co-owns and produces with Lane Tanner, and we jumped at the chance to document the process from Day One. Following is the 10th in a series about the life of a new vineyard by Noozhawk contributing writer Laurie Jervis and photographer Len Wood.]
The young pinot noir vines at Warner Henry Vineyard saw their first pruning the week of March 1, less than a year after going into the ground in May 2021.
Pruning of grape vines typically occurs between January and early March, while the vines are still dormant.
Lumen Wines, the wine label co-owned by Will Henry and Lane Tanner, will have its first estate vineyard in Warner Henry, a five-acre vineyard on 11 acres that Henry and his wife, Kali Kopley, purchased in 2018. The project has been years in the planning and was a dream of Henry’s late father, businessman Warner Henry, who died in August 2020.
When we spoke on March 14, Henry told me his vineyard crews had pruned back the young vines to just two buds, observing that they “look almost like new rootstock again.” Cut back were the first year’s growth — spindly shoots — up to three feet long in the vines that displayed the most vigor.
Weeds that had grown inside the plastic grow tubes — protection against frost and vineyard pests such as rabbits — were pulled, and the tubes then re-tied over the pruned vines for one more season, he said.
This time next year — after another season of growth — each vine’s shoots will likely be “trained” along and tied down to the trellis wires, making them cordons, part of each vine’s permanent wood along with the trunk.
Every spring, new shoots grow from new buds along that cordon, and the shoots will be vertically trained up through the trellis wires, creating vertical shoot positioning, or VSP, the most common trellis system.
Annual pruning and training of vines are vital for quality grape production. Early every year, vineyard managers choose how much of the prior year’s growth to prune back in order to best regulate the coming year’s vegetative growth (the shoots and leaves) and the crop (the grapes) for quality and yield.
Five of the seven acres at the “Wild King” vineyard down the road from Warner Henry — the one that Will Henry was “gifted” last year— were also pruned this month, likely for the first time in two years, he said.
He opted to leave alone two of the acres to continue experimenting with untrained growth, but planned to take some hand shears to the longest shoots simply so the rows would be easier to walk come harvest time.
At Warner Henry, lack of water “has been a challenge,” Henry said. “We had an unexpected dry winter,” and the cover crops his crews seeded late last year struggled, especially in the vineyard’s south-facing section.
But, “most parts of the vineyard got some benefits from the cover crops,” he added.
Not only was the winter weather mostly dry, but the water level in Henry’s well ran too low to be of adequate use for irrigation, and he’s hooked up to “town water” for now, he said.
“We have to deal with what Mother Nature has given us, but to be honest, I’m more of a plumber than a farmer these days,” he chuckled.
When the ruchè rootstocks were planted in February and needed an initial good soaking, Henry was forced to use his garden hose for irrigation, he recalled.
Nurseries that supply rootstock for new vineyards guarantee customers a percentage of “replacement stock” that arrives one year after the initial planting. Henry had put in his order for more pinot noir rootstocks when we spoke and will replant them around May.
Sometimes, new vines just fail to grow, but typically, pests are to blame. Gophers on are a mission to eat the roots of young vines, and like all farmers, Henry lost “quite a few vines” to the varmints.
So he’s set his sights on some owl boxes — wooden structures that offer nesting for owls. The boxes sit up on tall wooden poles and face north or northeast so direct sunlight is limited. Most vineyards of any size have at least one owl box to lure the birds of prey to roost during the day and hunt pests at night.
Henry hopes to have the boxes in place by late April.
Coming in April: Owls and other bird of prey