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What the Heck Does Vine Trellising Have to Do with Wine?

The short answer? Everything. OK, so there’s also the place the grapes are grown, the kind of grape, how those grapes are processed, and who’s doing the winemaking, but the lesser-celebrated art of trellising is one of the most crucial building blocks of good winemaking, and it deserves its due. Kind of makes you wonder why this common practice—the act of training vine canopies to grow in a particular formation—isn’t more talked about in the wine media, right? This week we’re raising a glass to the vineyard managers out there (you know who you are!). After all, they are the ones who turn idle vines into hardworking vineyards through the dance of trellising, training, and pruning.

Spring has sprung in Paso Robles Wine Country and growth is exponential. What will your favorite winery do with the fresh greenery growing all around? Take note: It has more to do with the end result than you think. Consider:

1. Vines need to be told what to do

Some might unfairly deem the subject of vine training and trellising unflashy, but if you’ve ever trained your garden tomato plants for balanced fruit growth and ease-of-picking, you know what a big difference a little organization can make on Mother Nature. If the vines had their natural way, they’d be happy to grow up the side of a tree in lush, unstressed soil, not wrapped around a metal stake on a chalky calcareous mountainside (and the flavor, of course, would suffer terribly). Just as certain winegrape varietals favor different rootstalks, weather conditions, or soil types, the way a vine is trained to receive sun and bear fruit is a crucial puzzle piece tJustin winery logo thumbnailhat—when considered thoughtfully—can mean the difference between “pretty good” and “excellent” wine.

The folks at JUSTIN Winery are all about a hands-on winegrowing that leads to better control of flavor and fruit load. Contact the tasting room for a food and wine pairing with a side of education.

Mapping and Directions:

2. To divide or not to divide?

This is the question your favorite winemaker asks with each new vineyard block planted, and it is an important one. There are two training systems commonly used in winegrape growing today, and they’re both pretty easy to identify, even from your car window. The first, least expensive and more hands-off way is called non-divided trellising, where grapes are harvested from a single “fruit zone.” Think of a root coming up from the ground, attached to a wire and from that intersection vine tendrils, leaves and fruit grow. Fruit can be pruned from this single zone or left on the vine—and each decision will change the future of the fruit’s flavor. In the case of “divided trellising,” the vines are skillfully separated into two fruit zones. It’s a tad more work, but the result can be great indeed. Why go through the effort to divide? This way, you’ll expose more of the vine’s foliage to sunlight, resulting in greater fruit production while still maintaining good fruit quality. Some winemakers also believeHug-Cellars-Logo that divided canopy systems are better suited to high-vigor varieties and rootstocks that require more effort to maintain a suitable canopy microclimate. In other words: you’re leaving less up to chance and taking more of the reigns when it comes to the fruit that will one day make the wine.

Want to take a closer look at a working vineyard? Ask Paso Robles-based Hug Cellars about a tasting and vineyard tour by contacting owner Edgar Torres at the winery’s website.

Mapping and Directions:

3. Letting it go to your head

As one of California’s oldest winegrowing methods, head trained vines are iconic and can be found all over Paso Robles (especially in vineyards known for quality Zinfandel). Back in the day, the head trained method was primarily used because it was inexpensive and water wise, also calling for little to no wire (which could cost a pretty penny). Instead, the vines rely on a simple split wood stake sitting 3-to-4 feet above the soil. Although raising vine heads higher into the air is known to increase fruit and foliage, this compact, lower-to-the-ground head training method keeps yields down, water down, and quality sky high. As Zinfandel growers still know today, this method is important when it comes to 2-for-1 wine tasting specials Poalillo-Vineyardscrafting traditional zin that shines with the complex, concentrated flavor of celebrated vintages.

Poalillo Vineyards in West Paso Robles is proud to produce old vine dry-farmed head-trained Zinfandel.

Mapping and Directions:

4. Sun, wind, and the pursuit of perfect wine

How much sun is too much sun? And for that matter, how much is too little? One major consideration vineyard managers lose sleep over is how to balance canopy size. You want enough foliage to facilitate photosynthesis (which feeds the plant, ups sugar levels, and leads to balanced fruit) without allowing so much growth around the plant that grape ripening is impeded. This is where the art of training and pruning intersect. It truly is a dance! Take off too much foliage and your precious grapes are susceptible to birds and blazing California rays. Wind is another huge factor: If it’s extremely windy in the vineyard, a condensed, sturdy system is favored. Not much wind? A winemaker can then go for a more sprawling, spread out vine that offers a heftier fruit-to-leaf ratio. The next time you take a vineyard tour, consider the location. Are you in breezy Edna Valley, just miles from the beach, or are you in East Paso Robles, where the environment is usually calm? How do 2-for-1 wine tasting specials Cutruzzola-winerythese factors change the height, width, and shape of the vines? Once you start asking these questions you won’t be able to look at a vineyard the same way again!

Cutruzzola Vineyards famously grows its grapes near the ocean in cool, coastal Cambria.

Mapping and Directions:

5. We’re not the first or the last

Ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks all knew how to make good wine—and they knew that cultivating and manipulating vine growth made all the difference. We are not the first to mold our vineyards to match our flavor preferences, quality expectations, and personal styles…and we won’t be the last! Although it may be easy to assume that all vineyards are the same, don’t fall for this foolishness! The closer you look at the grape growing process (with all of its wires, clippers, and gloved hands), the closer you’ll feel to that bottle and the people who made it all possible.

This blog post was written by Hayley Thomas, food and wine writer for SLO New Times, Edible SLO, and She can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Instagram @flavorslo.



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If you’re looking for a place to spend the night in Paso Robles, checkout:

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