Could Canopy Management Techniques Improve Oregon Wine Quality? 1989 Public Deposited


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  • The phrase "canopy management" has recently become trendy in many New World grapegrowing areas. Interestingly enough, the concepts are not new and are generally acknowledged in Old World viticulture, though often these empirical observations are misinterpreted, as we will soon show. It was Nelson Shaulis of Cornell University who developed ideas of canopy management, especially for New World audiences, which culminated in his description in 1966 of the Geneva Double Curtain. Shaulis' studies showed him that the primary limiting factor in modern vineyard production was sunlight, once pests, diseases, and weed competition were overcome. Widely spaced rows alternating with dense vine canopies was standard vineyard practice. While the exterior leaves were well exposed, there was a high proportion of shaded interior leaves and fruit, which was shown to have negative effects on both yield and fruit composition. The solution was to divide dense canopies, and he found that an improved trellis system was preferable to closer row spacing. Although published over twenty years ago, there has been a reluctance to accept some of these basic biological principles. Probably a major reason was that the initial studies were with Labruscana grapes (Concord) and many believed the same results would not apply to Vitis vinifera, the European winegrape. Also, many believed that similar responses would not be obtained in "sunny" climates, like California or Australia. These same people had obviously never measured light levels in the center of dense canopies - they are equally low in "sunny" as in "cloudy" climates, and both inferior from a vine physiology point of view! Another major reason was the reluctance of researchers to evaluate other peoples' ideas or systems. This disturbing trend is still evident. While some may claim lack of mechanization as an impediment to local evaluation, it is noteworthy that Shaulis developed GDC for both mechanical harvesting and pruning. There were, however, a few converts to the Shaulis approach. During the early 1970's, Dr. Cesare Intrieri of Italy, Dr. Alain Carbonneau of France, and I (Richard Smart of Australia) learned from Shaulis and further developed these ideas for vinifera winegrapes. The results were equally encouraging, and now, in the late 1980's, canopy management is being actively researched throughout the New World. Over centuries of trial and error and empirical observation, the Europeans have determined vineyard factors important for wine quality - and, by the way, vineyard factors are regarded as more important than cellar practices generally! Several adages come to us from Europe, to wit: "A struggling vine makes the best wine" and the old favorite "High yield gives lower quality". I understand why there is support for these ideas and recognize that they do represent reasonable observation. But, like most empirical dogma, they are not necessarily correct. They show association only and do not prove cause and effect. A feature of both low vigor ("struggling vines") and low yields is that the canopies are open. That is, most leaves and fruit are exposed. As one increases yield, this is invariably accompanied by an increase in shading. Similarly, high vigor means long shoots and more and bigger leaves, and this also increases shading. Perhaps it is not the "high vigor" or the "high yield" that cause reduced quality, but more shading. This is the central idea to what we regard as proper canopy management. The last two decades have witnessed many studies of canopy microclimate and effects on wine quality. These studies have demonstrated similar responses with a range of varieties and over a range of climates, from "hot" to 11 cool". I have personally witnessed experimental wine tasting where wine judges (competent enologists all) thought they were tasting wines from different regions and were impressed to learn they all came from the same vineyard, the only difference being in canopy management. We might add a word here about our Ruakura philosophy of canopy management. Our primary aim is to improve quality. It turns out that as we improve quality by canopy management, yields also increase. We can live with that. Also, we are interested in mechanization. We believe the future lies in mechanization of all vineyard operations, including harvest, winter pruning, and summer pruning as well as cultivation and spraying. While we understand that Oregon growers are not at the moment as concerned with mechanization, that may change along with immigration laws in the future. Our goal is to maximize quality and minimize unit cost of production. This article is written as a series of questions and answers - we anticipate the question, then answer it! Hope we get the questions right!
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  • Smart, R., & Sharp, K. (1989). Could Canopy Management Techniques Improve Oregon Wine Quality? 1989. Oregon Wine Advisory Board Research Progress Report.
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