BELCHERTOWN — When it comes to wine, the decision-making process seems fairly easy: White or red? But for those who grow the grapes, there is a bit more thinking involved.
Some 20 people tried their hands at pruning grapes at a workshop at the University of Massachusetts Cold Spring Orchard Research & Education Center on Saturday morning. Participants carefully snipped and shaped vines that will produce the orchard’s wine grapes.
The workshop was part of Mass Aggie Seminars, which has provided hands-on gardening seminars for about a dozen years. Sonia Schloemann, a fruit specialist with the UMass Extension program, ran the workshop. After an indoor presentation on grape pruning, folks headed into the orchard with clippers to practice what they learned.
According to Schloemann, the Mass Aggie Seminars have gained momentum in recent years because many folks are interested in growing their own produce. And that’s true for Barbara Scharl of Wilbraham. Scharl used a pair of garden clippers to snip at a grape vine with Gwen Ashbaugh of New Hartford, Connecticut. Scharl came to the workshop to learn how to grow and properly prune the Concord grape vines in her backyard.
“I just love Concord grapes,” Scharl said. “One thing that surprised me was the decision making process.”
Scharl said she was surprised at how detailed proper grape pruning can be. Shaping grape vines requires a little more strategy than pruning her bushes at home, she said. Scholemann encouraged participants to take risks and apply what they had learned during the workshop.
“These are teaching vines,” Schloemann said. “Go ahead, be brave and make some cuts. It’s like getting a haircut; it does grow back.”
Though grape pruning is a detailed process, there is room for experimentation and error, added Ashbaugh. Unlike pruning an apple tree, grape pruning is not so permanent. The fruit is hardy in winter and quite resilient, which is helpful for rookie pruners.
“Grapes seem to be pretty forgiving,” Ashbaugh said. “It all grows back next year.”
Temperatures hovered around 65 degrees and the sun broke through the clouds over the orchard as the session went on. Other Mass Aggie Seminars topics include apple tree grafting and edible landscaping. The grape pruning session always draws a crowd, Schloemann said.
Carlton Brose, of Amherst, said he would try out his new skills as soon as he got home. He often makes preserves with grapes from the four grapevines in his backyard — three Concord and one Ferdonia.
“This all amazes me because I’ve been an amateur for so long,” Brose said, adding that he’s had his grapevines for some 20 years.
Paul Sztremer, of Stamford Connecticut, worked in a pair with Brose. Sztremer drove more than two hours to attend the workshop. He owns Wildflower Grounds Management in Stamford, and said he came to learn how to prune grape vines for his customers.
Sztremer and Brose explained that last year’s vine growth will produce this year’s grapes — which will be ready for harvest in late summer or early fall. Pruners should look out for brown stalks on the vine, the men said, which indicate they will yield grapes. If the stalks are thin, that means the growth is stunted and they should be trimmed from the vine.
According to Schloemann, it is important to trim the vines down to make sure the plant has enough energy to ripen the grapes. This enhances flavor, she said, especially for complex wine flavors.
“Sixty buds is the upper limit for a productive vine that will ripen the fruit it produces,” Schloemann said. “You want to have 20 to 30 buds on either side, that’s the ballpark.”
Pedro Levy came to the workshop to learn how to prune the 10 Concord grape vines behind his home in Pelham. He worked alongside Florence resident Joe Maziarz, who was also interested taming his existing grape vines.
“I came because of the ancient conglomerate I inherited with the house I bought in Maine,” Maziarz said, talking about a labyrinth of grapevines behind his home in Southport, Maine.
“One, two, three,” Maziarz and Levy counted as they snipped the stalks and tossed them to the ground.
“We’re in business,” Levy added.
The stalks that were trimmed off the vine did not need to go to waste, Schloemenn added. They may have taken up too much space or energy on the vine they grew on, but many are strong enough to start vines of their own. She invited participants to take them home.
“Grapes are notoriously easy to root from cutting,” she said. “If you stick this wood into the soil, about half of it will root.”
According to Schloemann, a number of vineyards in the Valley also do workshops with UMass Extension, including Quabbin Sky Vineyard and Mount Warner Vineyards. Some also buy grapes from Cold Spring Orchard.
“It’s a two-way street,” Schloemann said. “They learn a lot from us and we learn a lot from them.”
Stephanie Murray can be reached at email@example.com