We’re a confusing size for a family-owned vineyard. At just over four acres, we feel we’re small enough to do a lot of the work ourselves. On the other hand, when something needs to be done to each and every of the 7,146 plants, the task seems daunting.
Our most recent task is the job of hedging the vines. As the vines grow, the shoots rise above the highest trellis wire and then hang over into the space between the rows (called alleyways). This makes it difficult to get equipment through, provides unwanted shading to the growing clusters and prevents good air circulation. Hedging, also called topping or summer pruning, needs to be done to open up that space.
We’ve tried mechanical hedging in the past but were concerned that it caused too much damage to the clusters. The other issue is that mechanical hedging trims both side of the vines exactly. We felt we wanted to leave the vine longer on the south side to provide better protection to the clusters from the afternoon sun and closer on the north side to allow more air circulation.
Hedging by hand is possible but is a long and arduous task. Your arms are up in the air, snipping with the hedging shears all day long. It takes a crew of 3-5 people three or four days to complete our vineyard.
So our solution was to use our utility cart and a gas-powered hedger. This allowed us to sculpt the plants exactly how we wanted them, do it ourselves and do it in a reasonable amount of time. I drove the cart through the alleyways, which can be nerve-wracking because it’s so close. Clay sat on the seat with the hedger balanced on one knee and his arm wrapped around the cart’s roof strut. We went up and then down each alleyway, trimming away the overhanging shoots. At well over 100 rows, it took a full day to complete. Fortunately, Jake spent part of the time in the back of the cart, giving us the necessary “atta-boys” we needed to get the job done.