Tag Archives: Geneva Double-Curtain

Wölffer’s Trellis Sampler

I suspect that few people know of Wölffer’s trellis sampler, but I’m sure that it’s unique on the island, perhaps in all of New York State.  Located on the south side of the winery in the main building, it has examples of eight of the principle trellis systems used in vineyards around the world, only one of which is widely used in Long Island.  Viewing them is almost like taking a vineyard tour around the world with regard to the different ways that vines are trained.  There are compelling reasons for using one in preference to another, depending on the country, the climate, the prevailing laws of a region, and custom or tradition.

Needless to say, the trellis sampler inspired me to look into the trellis and training systems more deeply, because they are central to what a wine-grape vineyard is all about.

Regardless of the trellis used, the vines must be trained to it, and there are two kinds of training:  spur and cane.  Some trellises are more amenable to one or the other.  This will be indicated below.  The entire point of the training and trellis systems is that they significantly aid in helping the vines’ canes and shoot develop in a way such that the amount of light and air can be controlled.  In addition, trellises allow for effective canopy management.  Vines leaves need sunlight for photosynthesis and the grape clusters benefit from solar exposure as well, but not too much.  Typically, the vine rows will be oriented to catch the maximum sunlight early in the day (so facing east), in the afternoon (facing west), or for the fullest amount of sunlight, by facing south.  Much depends on matters of aspect and slope of the land and finding the optimum exposure.

The movement of air should be facilitated so as to avoid the development of different molds, fungi, and rot and to dry the grapes after a rain.  The amount of shade can further be controlled by pulling leaves if needed.  Finally, the trellis and training should provide a fruit zone for easy maintenance and harvesting.

Not to add to the confusion, but one must bear in mind that a spur-trained vine is cane-pruned, whereas a cane-trained vine is spur-pruned.  (Vine pruning deserves its own explanation, but not here.)

Alberate training: vine and oliveVine training, which is what trellises are for, has been around since the beginning of viticulture, and was employed by the Ancient Egyptians, Ancient Greeks, the Romans, and medieval monasteries.  Without trellising, grapevines will climb and cling onto anything that can be reached by their shoots, or tendrils.  Nevertheless, this is a kind of rudimentary spur training called Alberate.

The result can look like a mess, as in the case of this Sangiovese vine climbing into an olive tree, and it can be difficult to harvest the grapes or effectively treat the vines with chemicals to control pests and disease.  Nevertheless, it is very easy to maintain.  This example was found in a small vineyard-cum-olive-grove in Strada-in-Chianti, just outside Florence.

Wine produced from these grapes is, needless to say, no better than ordinary table wine at best.

Bushvine (viña en vaso)Another ancient and still widely-used untrellised vine training is called Gobelet (“goblet” or vase”), also known as bush vine (Australia). It’s history can be traced back to the ancient Romans and even the early Egyptians.  It was widely employed in California in the 19th Century and some vineyards there still carry on the practice.  It is especially popular in Spain, where it is called en vaso.  Gobelet-trained vines are head trained, which is to say spur-pruned close to the ground, as can be seen in the photo above of a 100-year-old Tempranillo vine in Rioja.  It can be either staked or allowed to grow free-standing.

One ought to bear in mind that the vine-training system does not necessarily follow the design of the trellis so much as the trellis should be selected for a given training system.  Often the training system takes the name of the trellis, but it doesn’t necessarily follow.

The trellis is merely the arrangement of the posts, stakes, and wires, while there can be multiple variations to how a given trellis is used for training.  The trellis, in other words, is merely a support for the training system.   The very simplest trellis is merely a stake in the ground to which a vine is tied with minimal training; the simplest training system is the Gobelet or vase, discussed above, which requires no trellis.

One more factor to be taken into consideration is the species and varieties that are to be trellised.  Native American vines (e.g., V. labrusca) and hybrids (vinifera x non-vinifera) tend to be down-growing, whereas V. vinifera varieties grown naturally upwards.  The training should therefore follow the natural inclinations of the vines and trellises should be chosen for their suitability to the variety.

Getting back to Wölffer’s, if one walks around the building from the patio, the first of the seven trellis samples encountered is the pergola, the origins of which are Italian, shown below:

Wolffer trellising sampler, 01The Pergola is largely found in Argentina, Italy, and Spain.  The sign tells us that its advantages are, “Shades ground in hot, arid climates to preserve moisture.  Shades fruit from direct sunlight.” (The word comes from the Late Latin pergula, or projecting eave, but comes into English usage via Italian.)  This kind of pergola (closed) is also called tendone.

It’s also good for picnics and as an ornamental device to provide shade, cover a walkway, or offer a processional path for a wedding.  Usually, for that kind of function it’s referred to as an “arbor”.

The pergola is designed for making the vines grow well in hot, arid climates, Pergola mechanical harvesterand the fruit grows directly overhead, awkward for harvesting by hand—imagine how tiring it would be—but if the fruit has been trained to hang down far enough, it is also amenable to machine harvesting, as can be seen in the diagram opposite:


Wolffer trellising sampler, 03Next is the Geneva Double Curtain / GDC (above), which, according to its sign, is found in “New York State [originally for] Concord grapes, and for table and juice grapes worldwide.”  Actually, the GDC can be used for wine grapes, but its special advantage is that grape bunches can hang free, which is desirable for table grapes.  Table grape clusters are also larger and heavier than vinifera ones, so the GDP makes more sense for those grapes.  (It is called Geneva because it was developed at the Geneva–New York–Agriculture Experimental Station in the 1960s.)

The system shown in Fig. 1 (below) utilizes a 4-foot cross arm on the trellis to double the amount of canopy per row and a single wire about 3 feet high to support the trunk. Vines are trained to alternVine training on Geneva 2-curtainate sides of the 6-foot high trellis.  Each vine has a 6-8 foot cordon (a permanent branch on either side of the main trunk, or trunks that are secured by two to four wraps around the support wire with a wire tie at its end. Each cordon has 10-12 short (4-6 bud) canes evenly spaced along its length. A renewal spur should be kept as next year’s replacement for each of the short canes.

Wolffer trellising sampler, 05The Lyre trellis is a variation on the Geneva Double Curtain and the Scott Henry (spur-training).  As the sign tells us, its use is rare (and confined to the New World), but it has the advantage of opening up the canopy.  It accommodates overly-vigorous vines that would have problems with respect to shade, by allowing good air circulation and sunlight penetration.  Vine vigor, by the way, refers to the growth of foliage or canopy.

Wolffer trellising sampler, 08The Hill Post/Mosel (or Mosel Arch) trellis is very simple.  As the sign says, “Found:  On the steep slopes in Germany and the Rhône Valley of France.  Advantage:  Supports vines on terrain that cannot be trellised [otherwise].”  Each vine has its own stake and two canes bent into a heart shape.  Cane training is used with this.

Wolffer trellises, Hi-wire cordonThe High-wire Cordon is a very simple stake-and-wire system in which the shoots are draped over the top wire to hang over and allow the fruit to hang pendulously.  It is fine for table and juice grapes and native American wine-grape varieties.  Its primary advantage is low cost and maintenance.

Wolffer trellising sampler, 13Pendelbogen (aka European Loop or Arch-Cane) is a training system that is used in Germany and Austria as well as the Northwest of the US.  It offers the advantages of easy tying and of condensing the number of shoots.  A variant of the Guyot Double system, it promotes better sap distribution with more fruit-bearing shoots consolidated on the center buds.

Wolffer trellising sampler, 12Scott Henry/Smart-Dyson are two variations on a training system that’s used most widely in Oregon and Australia.  Its advantage is that it “Opens up the canopy and improves fruit quality and yield from over-vigorous vines.”  The names are as interesting as the systems, which differ significantly from all the other trellises in the Wölffer sampler.  Smart-Dyson (S-D) is named after international viticulturist Richard Smart and John Dyson, a well-known grape grower with vineyards in New York (Millbrook) and California. Scott Henry is named for the Oregon grape grower and former aerospace engineer who developed it. Henry’s technology is basically a system of two vines in one location, one high, and one low. Smart-Dyson uses the same high-low approach, but with a single, spur-pruned cordon-trained vine.  The differences are shown in the diagrams below:

Vine trellis Smart-Dyson explained




Vine trellis Scott Henry diagram




Wolffer trellising sampler, 14

The three rows shown above represent the Meter by Meter trellis, which is found in “Bordeaux, Burgundy, and other regions of France.”  These are used for high-density (1 m. x 1 m.) plantings that are required by the AOC laws that define almost everything that is permitted in the vineyards of the various regions of France.  Such density would be highly problematic for machinery but works well for manually working the vines.

Umbrella Kniffin diagramBefore Long Island vineyards began to use Vertical Shoot Positioning (VSP, discussed immediately below) most used the Umbrella Kniffin system to train the vine with a single or double trunk extending to the upper wire. After the second growing season, the vineyardist would select two or four canes growing from near the top of the trunk for arms and prune them to 10 to 20 buds. That was followed by cutting back two other canes to 2 or 3 buds for renewal spurs. The arms would be looped over the top wire, bringing them down obliquely to the bottom wire and tied. Each following winter the arms would be replaced by canes from the renewal spurs.  The system proved not to be good for harvesting the grapes, for the bunches would not be hanging at a uniform level.

The training system used in the Wölffer vineyards is called VSP (Vertical Shoot Positioning)  Virtually all the vineyards in Long Island use it.  It employs a Vertical Trellis, which is essentially three wires running the length of a row.  The bottom wire is called the cordon wire, to which the trunk cordons or arms of the vine are tied, and the upper two wires are used to tie the vertical shoots.  This is ideal for vinifera varieties as they tend to grow upwards.   In the picture below, the bare canes and shoots make it easy to see how the vines are trained, in this case a double cordon, with all the shoots rising vertically.  While the VSP can be either cane or spur-trained, the version we see here is spur trained.

Wolffer Estate, VSP vines

One can see that the cordon, or part of the trunk that is trained horizontally in two directions, is tied to the bottom wire, while the shoots are trained to go vertically up, tied to the send and third wires, the topmost having been set at a height of between 60” and 70” (150 to 175 cm.)  This makes it easier to pull leaves and thin the clusters, while the fruit zone will run along the cordon level, at a level that makes it easy to either hand-pick or machine-pick the clusters at harvest time.

Wolffer VSP fruit zone The picture above shows the fruit zone as it looks when the first buds appear.

VSP is used primarily in coastal regions like Long Island where the expected vigor of the vines is low to moderate.  However, it is widely used wherever vinifera is grown, including Bordeaux, Burgundy, Alsace, Germany, and New Zealand.  Nevertheless, with a bit of effort many hybrids can be trained to VSP as happens in the Hudson River Region.

As shown in the diagram at right, the fruit zone can be shaped hVine trellis diagram, VSPorizontally just above the cordon wire, with the shoot growing straight up above them so that their leaves get the best exposure to the sun, while trimming back some of the leaves that might otherwise cover the bunches in the fruit zone so that the grapes get some solar exposure.

Mechanical harvesting is possible with VSP systems and special machines are designed for this.  They are virtually the direct opposite of the pergola harvesters, which fit beneath and within the pergola.  Harvesters of this kind require very taut wires to keep the fruit at an even level; there are even computerized wire tightener machines.  (These, of course, are very expensive in the aggregate, as there must be one for each row; only very large mechanized operations can afford them).

For VSP, the machine straddles the rows and can be adjusted for the height of the fruit zone (this machine illustrated below is not used at Wölffer’s, which only uses hand harvesting):

Palmer, Merlot harvest, 14The spacing between rows is critical for using machinery.  But it’s very important for a number of other reasons.  For optimum exposure to sunlight, the height of the vines will affect the amount of sun that falls on the rows behind.  Therefore the spacing should be such that the vines’ shadows never cover the canopy or fruit zone.  Another determinant for row spacing is the use of machinery.  Rows should be wide enough to accommodate a harvester, a tractor, or any other machinery that may be used in a vineyard.  The meter by meter system is scarcely amenable to machine work, whereas the VSP system clearly is.  (Note: in Europe and elsewhere, this is usually known as the vertical trellis.)

Wolffer Estate, views, endpostsAn important part of nearly all trellis systems is the end post, usually of wood, about 4 to 6” in diameter and about 6 to 7 feet tall for VSP.  As can be seen in the picture, the end post is put in the ground to a depth of about three feet and canted away from the row it ends.  This is one approach.  The post is given further rigidity by the use of a guy wire the terminus of which is staked deeply into the ground, the better to resist the very strong pull of a properly-taut series of shoot and cordon wires.  The posts are also used for identifying the variety planted in a given row, usually with just the initial letter or two, as in CH for Chardonnay, CB for Chenin Blanc, etc.

At Wölffer’s roses are planted at the ends of each row, not merely for the obvious aesthetic result, but for the very practical reason that roses attract not just bees but other insects that also prey on vineyard pests.

The wires running from post to post and to the stakes in between will slacken and need to be tightened from time to time—to the end posts, not the stakes.  There are even special tools for that.  The vines are then tied to the wires—trained vineyard workers are needed for that.

It should be apparent that the preparation and planting of a vineyard is very demanding of time, expense, and labor.  Preparing the ground first is a topic worth discussing separately, but it isn’t necessarily visible to the casual eye.  The trellis, laden with its vines and fruit, is the most visible component of the vineyard.  The maintenance of the vines is itself only visible when a visitor sees workers or machines in the rows, spraying, thinning, harvesting, and so on.  It is one of the most demanding forms of horticulture that there is, but the rewards, in the form of the wine made from the fruit grown in the vineyard and the money to be made from its sale make it all worth the effort.

It is for these reasons that a skilled and experienced vineyard manager is needed to obtain the best fruit possible from so elaborate a system.

While the trellis and training systems shown and discussed above include the most important and widely-used, there are far more than this.  Others are, for the most part, merely variations on the themes set out above.


Cornell University Cooperative Extension Nassau County, “Home Grounds Fact Sheet-Grapes:  Culture and Pruning.”  January 2009.  This is a downloadable PDF that focuses on using the Four-Armed Kniffin and Umbrella Kniffin systems.

Cox, Jeff.  From Vines to Wines:  The Complete Guide to Growing Grapes and Making Your Own Wine.  North Adams, MA:  Storey Press, 1999.

Robinson, Jancis, MW, editor.  The Oxford Companion to Wine, 3rd edition.  New York: Oxford University Press, 2006

Stevenson, Tom.  The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia:  The Classic Reference to the Wines of the World, 5th edition.  New York:  Dorling Kindersley, 2011.

See also my post on Wölffer Estate, published in July 2013.


Viniculture in LI, Part III: Mudd Vineyards

Based on interviews with Steve Mudd as well as online sources

Steve Mudd is a man whose light-hearted demeanor masks a serious character and a professional viticulturalist of deep knowledge and long experience.  Steve has been involved with wine agriculture since he and his father, David, then an airline pilot, started their vineyard in 1974, in Southold, on the North Fork, planting a single acre to Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc just a year after Hargrave Vineyards was established as the first winery in Long Island.  (In fact, Dave Mudd, who then raised hay, had already been thinking of planting a vinifera plot even before the Hargraves had arrived.)

Steve and his father had planted some ungrafted Cabernet in their new vineyard.  When Nelson Shaulis, the eminent professor of viticulture at Cornell (who developed the Geneva Double-Curtain trellis system used worldwide today), visited to see what was going in the vineyards of Eastern Long Island and when he saw the vines, he argued that own-rooted Cabernet Sauvignon could not survive more than a few years.  (Dr. Shaulis, long an advocate of French-American hybrids and hybridizer of Cornell varieties, had long ago turned a blind eye to vinifera, due in part perhaps to his deep antipathy to Konstantin Frank–who had aggressively advocated for vinifera–and to rip out hybrids.)  After 3 years he came back and saw that the same vines were still doing well.  He announced that within a few years they’d be gone.  Several years later he paid another visit and was astonished to see that the vines were still productive and healthy.  He was so impressed that he decided to take a root cutting back to Cornell to see what there was about it that made it so resistant to Phylloxera—it took him three hours to surgically remove a complete vine.  39 years later the same own-rooted vines are alive and well; sadly, however, Dr. Shaulis is no longer with us to bear witness to it.

The vineyard also has the oldest Merlot vines on the Island, planted over 40 years ago.

David Mudd, by NorthFork Patch

Today, Mudd Vineyards, the business started by David Mudd 42 years ago and now run by his son, Steven, is the leading vineyard management and services company on Long Island and one of the most in demand on the East Coast.  Mudd has since been involved in planting more than 1,500 acres of vineyards (nearly half) in the East End—including Palmer Vineyards and what is now Pellegrini Vineyards—which amounts to almost half of all the vines in Long Island.  Today the business continues to manage numerous farms and sells grapes from its own vineyard to wineries that either have no vineyard of their own, or that use designated parcels of the Mudd vineyards, such as is the case with Channing Daughters, which produces several wines that are identified as coming from Mudd or Mudd West vineyards.  (The Channing Daughters website states that “The soil in the Mudd Vineyard is mostly Haven Loam with some portions being Riverhead Sandy Loam,” with “some of the oldest Sauvignon Blanc vines on Long Island which were planted in 1975,”  while “The Mudd West Vineyard is in Hallockville (Aquebogue) and is a warm, dry site. The soil is predominately Riverhead Sandy Loam. The Mudd West Vineyard was planted in 2005 making the vines 7 years old.”)  The wines, such as the 2007 Mudd illustrated here, are in homage to David Mudd, who was Larry Perrine’s (Channing Daughters’ CEO) first employer in Long Island and who helped expand and plant the Channing Daughters vineyard.

Over the years the Mudds acquired more land and now have a 50-acre vineyard, the grapes of which are sold to other wineries.   They make no wine of their own.  David Mudd once said in an interview that “Wine-making is laboratory work and that’s not for me.”  The same is true of Steve, but it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t understand winemaking, and he certainly understands the importance of delivering quality fruit to a winery.

Together father and son developed the largest vineyard management company in the East that also has its own vinifera vineyard.  Not only did they consult for but even helped establish a number of Long Island vineyards, beginning with Lenz in 1984, as well as Palmer, Paumanok, Peconic Bay, Pellegrini, and Pindar in the North Fork, and Channing Daughters in the Hamptons AVA.  Mudd was deeply involved with the creation of Raphael Winery, including the layout and design of the winery itself, the purchase of equipment, and also helped obtain the expertise of Paul Pontallier, general manager at Châteaux Margaux, one of the great First-Growth wineries of Bordeaux, with the objective of making wines inspired by the style of Bordeaux wines such as those of Margaux.  Today, Steve Mudd continues as the vineyard manager for Raphael and also has a close relationship with other LI wineries, such as Channing Daughters, but he now runs the company alone, as his father died one year ago.  He’s so busy that “the only way I know it’s Sunday is when the church is full.”

Mudd Vineyard Management Company is now a nationally-recognized VMC firm that has consulted in other regions beyond Long Island or even New York State, but along much of the East Coast as well.  Such was the case with the Upper Shore Regional Council in Maryland, where over sixty landowners met with Steve to discuss establishing vineyards in that region of the state.  For them he produced a “Prospective Vineyard Owner’s Handbook:  A Three-Year Estimate For Establishing Your Own Vineyard Utilizing A Vineyard Management Company.”  Included in the document, which can be downloaded from the Web, was a table of projected investment costs and returns for a new vineyard.  In addition, there were recommendations by Steve bearing on such matters as:

  • Maryland tax laws that affect vineyard operations and profitability (they need to be changed to be more favorable to on-site sales of wine to consumers and directly to restaurants)
  • Vineyard worker psychology as affected by the nature of the work expected or demanded, such as reduced performance due to boredom from repeating the same work over and over again.
  • Vineyard row length should be no more than 600’ to 800’—longer rows result in lost time when workers are called in for breaks or reassignment to other locations.
  • Row widths should be adequate to allow for drying of grapes from morning dew—he recommended 10’ width with vines at 6’ (10’ x 6’ = 726 vines per acre).  Greater densities increase costs per acre.
  • To encourage Agricultural Land Preservation a special sales transfer tax could be used to fund the purchase of land to be preserved.
  • Use clean pruning to keep dead cordon spurs from becoming harbors for vine infections and disease.
  • Growers should not push the vines too hard, so balanced pruning is essential to the plants’ health—by neither under- or over-pruning.
  • Vine trunks should be as straight as possible to reduce damage to them by tractors and equipment.
  • Water-retention capabilities of the soil can be enhanced by the addition of organic matter and irrigation when needed is encouraged.
  • To reduce wire tension problems in the rows, Vertical Shoot Positioning (VSP), as used in Long Island, is recommended.  This results in a band of fruit that leads to better sun exposure, spray coverage, and easier harvesting.
  • Leaf-pulling by hand should be done around the fruit zone to improve exposure to the sun.

From his years of experience, Steve can impart all kinds of wisdom for the viticultural neophyte.  For example:

  • “It’s necessary to rotate old vine trunks as they are given to splitting, developing crown gall, and the like.”
  • “The main reason to plant grafted vines is to get higher yields.”
  • “Longer hang time will lead to some dehydration of grapes—Cabernet Sauvignon can be dehydrated by as much as 10-15% before being harvested late in the season.”
  • “Organic inputs require more eradicants than protectants—which can be nasty to human consumption.”

Furthermore, Steve goes on (you can’t stop a good man once he gets going):

  • “There are more recovery sprayers in LI than in the rest of the US.”
  • “Long Island vineyards started with the Umbrella Kniffin trellis system, but converted to VSP after about ten years to create a band of fruit rather than scattered fruit.”
  • “In the 1970s the vines on the East End were sprayed about five times a year, but now it’s necessary to spray as often as fifteen times due to the introduction of inoculum that was the result of the planting of over 3000 acres of vines.”
  • “2010 was a unique vintage in LI, given that there was early bud break and, given the nearly-perfect weather, an early harvest.  It was perhaps the best ever for LI wine.”
  • “2011 had downy mildew all over the vineyards—it was an unbelievable outbreak.”
  • “2012, so far [in mid-June], has had too much rain and too little sun and the plants look like crap.  The disease pressure is phenomenal . . . .  But, at this point [in mid-September] the vintage has the potential to be a really good vintage.”
  • The sun’s arc flattens after August 15.
  • Steve likes to refer to the process of green harvesting as “Fussy Viticulture”—that was the topic of Steve’s talk in Maryland and is now the general practice in Long Island (among many other wine-growing regions).
  • “Ripe rot is a problem especially  in wine-growing regions like Virginia, where the weather is frequently wet and warm”

Plus a touch of viticultural history:  In 1982 it was discovered that vines identified as Pinot Chardonnay were actually Pinot Blanc, but it took a few years for the newly-planted vines to produce fully-developed leaves, which allowed Lucy Morton—a viticulturalist who translated Pierre Galet’s book, A Practical Ampelography: Grapevine Identification, from French to English—to correctly identify the vines as Pinot Blanc by the shape of the vine leaves.  (Incidentally, what was called Pinot Chardonnay—on the assumption that Chardonnay is a member of the Pinot family—is now called just Chardonnay.

Today Mudd Vineyards produces about 100 tons of grapes from its 50 acres of vines–a mere 2 tons an acre, proof of rigorous “fussy viticulture.”  The quality of the fruit is therefore very high, and Mudd supplies its fruit not only to wineries on the East End such as Channing Daughters and Raphael, but also as far away as New Paltz, NY, in the Hudson Valley (Robibero Winery) and even Arrowhead Spring in the Niagara Escarpment AVA.

Long Island with its three AVAs may be one of the newest important wine regions in the United States, but over a period of nearly forty years its vine growers have learned much about growing vinifera grapes in challenging terroir, and people like Steve Mudd  and others from there clearly have a great deal of knowledge and expertise to share and impart to others.  Perhaps the most important thing to bear in mind is how such a young region has gained so much respect in so brief a time.  It is people like Steve and his late father Dave, and the other vineyard managers, the winemakers, and the wines themselves that speak of a major, if small, region that produces premium wines.  Quality fruit is where it all begins.

—13 June & 17 Sept 2012 (update April 2016)

Mudd’s Vineyard Ltd

39005 County Rd 48, Southold, NY

(631) 765-1248

It does not encourage visitors as it only sells fruit to the wine industry.