While the days are beginning to get longer, the temperature is creeping lower and lower. Just as we adorn ourselves with scarves and jackets, Unionville’s grapevines must also prepare accordingly for the harsh temperatures ahead. Lucky for them, they have a dedicated team of viticulturalists to help them stay happy in the most brutal of weather!
Grapevines, like most woody plants, go dormant in the Wintertime to protect themselves and their new growth from frost. However, grapevines are very sensitive plants, especially in wetter, colder regions like the mid-Atlantic. This sensitivity means that the vines are still susceptible to cold damage in dormancy. With that in mind, the vineyard team at Unionville likes to take a couple of precautionary measures, so when the vines wake up in Springtime, they are ready to bud, flower and grow the grapes used to make some of the tastiest wine on the East Coast.
The first of these precautionary measures started many years ago, with our choice to plant cold-hardy varietals such as Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Riesling, but even our hardiest vines need a little TLC on the coldest Winter days. For that reason, we rely on a process called “hilling-up,” which describes the method of taking fresh compost (made from organic waste accrued on-site) and mounding it around the top of the root system and the vine’s graft union, two areas that are more vulnerable to Winter damage. These piles of compost create a blanket of insulation around the vine, as well as a physical barrier to pooling of water on frozen ground. Of course, the roots are not our only focus in winter-damage prevention. Large offshoots from the base and center of the trunk (affectionately called ‘suckers’ because they require a lot of nutrients to grow), which would normally be removed during the three growing seasons, are left intact to prevent cold-exposure to the trunk of the vine. They also serve as great markers of vine health come Springtime!
With February fast approaching, pruning season is off and running. These next couple of months are the perfect time to monitor and correct growing patterns and vigor for the coming Summer by cutting back vine spurs to just a few nodes. This assures even and healthy canopy growth, as well as an appropriate and manageable crop load (for both the vines and the winemaking team).
Vines are being pruned, barrels are being topped, tank whites are being bottled and wine is being poured and enjoyed in our tasting room all day long. It's winter hibernation for most, but Unionville is always in full swing.