epicurious.com: wwoofing in italy, tying the vines

Notes from Italy: Winemaking 101 and Vine Care for Dummies
by Alison Baenen
on 05/11/09 at 01:42 PM

I spent my first several days at San Polino performing non-wine related tasks: clearing the bramble patch and learning all about organic insect control. I hauled dead olive tree branches out of a gully, tried to break them down with a machete, and handed over the machete to Jake. I drove a tractor, panicked, and drove into the woodpile. Jake got an important job involving a hammer, and I made lunch. When, finally, I was given a task in which I would actually be able to touch the vines, I felt like I’d passed some kind of agricultural competence test. She’s ready, I imagined my hosts saying. Send her to the grapes.

My job was to tie the vines; the main goal is to touch the grapes, which at this time of year are delicate, flowering buds, as little as possible. Knocking one off is a) very easy and b) very bad. When you’re dealing with the limited quantity of wine produced by a boutique winery like San Polino, every potentially wine-producing bloom counts.

So, duly warned, I started tying. Vines grow vertically, but winemakers train them to grow horizontally by tying them to wires that run parallel to the ground. With old vines the job is easy: Reinforce the places where the vines were tied before. With new vines, it’s trickier. A young shoot can be several feet tall and growing straight up; you have to twist the vine, which makes a disconcerting snap, crack, pop sound when bent, so it lays flat against the wire. Pros can do this in a single, easy gesture, but Jake and I had to help each other manipulate particularly wayward vines. They wanted to grow up, after all, not sideways.

I lost a few buds. Not many, but enough to make me glad I wasn’t very fast at vine tying yet.