Vineyard Work Takes Many Hands

Growing season at Sheldrake Point is well underway, and this is a time of year when there is a job for everyone. Sometimes that job is bottling. Or prepping and assembling Wine Club packs. But it especially means helping in the vineyard. Since Sheldrake Point Winery is a working farm, makes and markets wine, and manages a tasting room, all of us here have changed hats for hours or days at a time to lend a hand outside our standard job descriptions.

vine tying

Vine tying is a lot of work! Each cane has to be wound around the grow wires and secured at the ends.

Expected Vineyard Work

Once the hustle and bustle of harvest has ended, our winter vineyard crew prunes the vines, leaving 4-8 canes, or “branches”, on each plant. In early spring, these canes then need to be tied down to the wires of the trellising system before bud break happens and new shoots begin to grow. This year, since our seasonal crew was not yet in place, vine tying became a pressing task, and those of us who spend our time working inside stepped into the vineyard to help out.

Early this spring I was able to spend 2 full days on vine tying, Marketing and Sales Manager Kyle Pallischeck spent 1 day, and Fran Littin, co-owner with husband Chuck Tauck, spent many days tying vines. For us novices, there was a lot to learn! You have to quickly assess which 4 of the 8 canes will be the best to tie down, because those will shape the future growth and production of the vine. Then each cane has to be carefully wound around the grow wires and secured at the ends with a twist tie. It is a lot of work, and, unless you are José Aguilera, Assistant Vineyard Manager, it takes a while!

The next vineyard project was the scheduled planting of 2,000 new Cabernet Franc vines. The plan was for a machine planter to come in on-contract to plant the new vines (2,000 being the minimum required). However, when the new vines arrived, Dave Wiemann, Vineyard Manager, saw pretty quickly that a change of plan was in order.

Unexpected Vineyard Work

We expected bare-root vines, which can be quickly and efficiently planted by machine. Dormant bare-root vines are also preferred because they typically self-adjust to vineyard conditions. But when our 2,000 new vines arrived by UPS, Dave found that more than half arrived potted in a soilless mixture, and all were boxed sideways instead of upright.

After sitting in on a library tasting, I was getting ready to leave for the day just as Dave sounded the alarm for all hands on deck. Sheldrake Point owner Chuck Tauck pitched in; Lisa Morton, Business Manager, drove up to the winery; Kyle pushed away from her desk; José came in from the vineyard; Winemakers Dave Breeden and Julia Hoyle came out of the lab; even Edmond, my boyfriend visiting from France, as well as the young man who mows the lawn at Sheldrake Point, were both pressed into service. If you were at Sheldrake Point Winery that afternoon, you were unpacking Cabernet Franc vines.

By the end of an hour, all of us working together had unpacked all 2,000 new vines, turning them upright and placing them in the shade behind the winery.

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Assistant Winemaker Julia Hoyle with Ruben Aguilera of our vineyard crew, working together to plant new vines.

The Rest of the Story

Dave first had to get the new vines healthy for planting, which included eight days of hardening off and watering, then get them into the ground. Once the vines have begun to grow, as these had, machine planting is out of the question, so all 2,000 had to be planted by hand. And the 1,200 that came potted required a hole, dug by hand with a shovel, for each one.

Dave and the vineyard crew got the job done. He says that the growing season is humming along now, that bud break came a few days late owing to the cool spring, and that flower bloom is expected between June 15 and 20th.

Many Hats and Many Hands

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We think the camaraderie that grows from all of us unpacking 2,000 delicate vines, destined for great Finger Lakes wine, is unrivaled.

The adage “Many hands make light work” cannot be truer at Sheldrake Point, though it is not just about completing vineyard work faster. A big part of our culture is that it is important to pitch in if you are available.

In the fall, I helped with harvest 2-3 days per week. Over the winter, I helped Lisa move her office. Winemakers Dave and Julia not only lead special tasting events that I coordinate as Wine Club Manager, they also help set up and clean up. And anyone available during crunch time helps me to get Wine Club packs ready for shipping and pick up.

The more any of us at Sheldrake Point can do for the business, the more knowledgeable we become and, in turn, more valuable. Keeping involved in production experiences means I can speak first-hand when Wine Club members ask about harvest or vineyard work. And, when we change hats and help out, we see each other more and build strong workplace relationships. We think the camaraderie that grows from all of us unpacking 2,000 delicate vines, destined for great Finger Lakes wine, is unrivaled.

So when our visitors come in for a tasting and say, “It must be wonderful to work at a winery,” I have enough experience to say honestly, “Yes, it is!”

Born and raised in the Finger Lakes, Whitney has always been passionate about the region.  She attended Hobart and William Smith Colleges, where she earned her degree in English and Education.  After a tasting room position at a local winery, she traveled to California, New Zealand, and Washington State to work harvest and gain production experience, returning in early 2015 to join the Sheldrake Point team.