Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

Collector’s Corner

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

Vineyard Articles

Canopy Management: Farming for Flavor

The old saying that “wine is made in the vineyard” is perhaps never more accurate than when it comes to managing the canopy — or green foliage — of a grapevine. Canopy management, a series of viticultural practices that occur between budbreak (in early spring) and veraison (mid-summer), is one of the winegrowers’ most powerful tools. By precisely controlling the amount of air and light that circulates and surrounds a grapevine, growers can affect photosynthesis, vine vigor, fruit development, and ripening, which in turn profoundly influence the character of a wine.

The goal is creating a uniform crop—one where all the fruit (front and back of each cluster, or clusters on different sides of the vine) ripens at the same time. “It’s amazing how much you can control flavor outcome by working with the vines’ canopy,” says Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Vineyard Manager Kirk Grace. “Too much shade, i.e. too many leaves between the clusters and the sun, and you can get undesirable vegetal flavors, but too much sun on the clusters can rob the wine of delicacy and finesse.”

By managing the vine canopy carefully, Kirk ensures that at harvest each cluster arrives at the winery at a uniform level of ripeness, avoiding unripe and unwelcome flavors. But this desired uniformity doesn’t mean that each vineyard block or even each grapevine is treated the same way – far from it. Grape variety, age and orientation of the vines, access to water, trellising systems – all determine how the canopy will be managed throughout the growing season.

With Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars’ Sauvignon Blanc, for instance, the vines are trained on what’s known as a “quad” trellis system, where the vines come up a couple of feet and then split into a “V” formation. This results in four “panels” or sides of canopy with the potential for different light and air exposure, producing grapes with distinct differences. “The quad system is great for Sauvignon Blanc because it allows us to farm for the full spectrum of varietal charac-teristics,” says Kirk. “We will manage one panel to produce clusters with flavors of fresh herbs and grass, another panel for citrus characteristics, and yet another for tropical fruit and melon notes.”

There are several stages of canopy management, each involving hours of handwork and dozens of “passes” through the vineyard. Approximately 3-4 weeks after budbreak new shoots are thinned out or “suckered,” directing the energy of the plant to fruit-bearing shoots. Several weeks after that, the shoots are trained into an upright position using a system of catchwires and clips, ensuring proper air and light circulation. Then the tops of long shoots are trimmed or “tipped,” to allow shorter, weaker shoots to catch up and create uniformity. “It’s a matter of communicating with the vine at every stage of growth,” says Kirk. “By working the canopy, you’re essentially telling the vine what you want it to do.”