Hello Wisconsin Fruit News subscribers and welcome back to the second season of Notes from the Field: A Grower’s Perspective! The goal of this series is to engage and foster connections between growers during the field season. Last season we learned a lot from Steve Louis, apple grower and President at Oakwood Fruit Farm. If you missed us last season, check out our conversations here.
This season… drum roll please… we will be following 13th generation wine maker and grape grower, Philippe Coquard at Wollersheim Winery & Distillery in Prairie Du Sac, WI. Philippe has been growing grapes and making wine at Wollersheim for over 30 years! He is passionate about growing grapes and promoting the unique wine industry in Wisconsin. We thank Philippe for generously volunteering his time and expertise this season.
Like many Wisconsin spring seasons, this one is off to an unpredictable start. Philippe and I had our first chat earlier this week on April 19… The winter season in Wisconsin was not very cold, so Philippe and his crew completed a lot of dormant pruning in January due to the warmer temperatures. While this timing may seem early for some, Philippe has found that whether he prunes in December, January, February, or March he does not observe a noticeable difference in the vines. With 30 acres of grape, the additional time to prune is valuable. Perhaps most importantly, Philippe warns about pruning too late during dormancy as this practice may end up breaking the buds.
With the warm temperatures that arrived in southern and central Wisconsin last week, buds have already started to swell at Wollersheim. No green tips have been observed yet, but Philippe expects these to emerge in about a week. In the meantime, he is focused on tying vines and installing more deer fencing (10-ft high) to protect vines from unwelcome consumers. Philippe emphasized the importance of deer fencing as a grape grower, due to the significant damage these animals cause to the vine. Deer can especially be a problem on younger vines just starting to get established. Deer damage may delay the time it takes for vines to start producing, and this can be costly.
With the recent shift back to cooler temperatures, Philippe brought out the frost protection equipment which includes 2 wind machines and 2 heaters. The combination of this equipment reduces the risk for frost damage to the vines. The heaters can be pulled behind the tractor or mounted under the fans to increase the movement of warmer air. Philippe saw the temperatures drop to 26.4°F on April 18, but he is less concerned about the buds at this temperature, and more concerned about the sap running into the shoots and damaging the woody tissue. This happened in 1987, and canes split completely due to the freeze. It is too early to tell if the canes were damaged during the latest freezing event.
This week Philippe is getting equipment ready for the first herbicide application of the season. Recently, he is trying more organic herbicides and shifting away from conventional products but admits that it is “a learning curve”. Additionally, he is taking another approach to tackling weed pressure in his vineyard this year using steam. The process of using steam can be quite slow, as adequate exposure time and coverage with steam is needed to kill the weeds. While this process burns significant fuel to make the steam and run the tractor, the steam does offer a non-chemical approach to weed management, and this is an important consideration for Philippe. However, in a larger acre vineyard, steam may not be feasible, but it can be a great tool for smaller vineyards.
With no new vine plantings this year, Philippe is letting the soil rest and he does this by planting and incorporating various brassica plants in the fallowed areas for one season, then plants grass or fescue before returning to vines. Philippe notices a big difference in vine health and vigor following these rest periods.
That’s all for now! Check out the notes from my next chat with Philippe as we kick off the growing season in the second issue of Wisconsin Fruit News on May 5.
This article series is NOT intended to be prescriptive for other vineyards. It is simply an opportunity for our readership to hear from other growers about their experiences growing fruit crops in Wisconsin.
Growing the same crop does not always justify the same practices. Management decisions at your farm should be tailored to your operation and take into consideration location, regional climate, disease and pest history of your vineyard, and your varieties.
The mention of a product is NOT an endorsement. Always follow the instructions on product labels and consult weather stations (ex. NEWA) in your area for current weather forecast and disease and pest prediction models.This article was posted in Notes from the Field and tagged Leslie Holland, Notes from the Field, Phillipe Coquard.