Patricia Skinkis, Viticulturist (in English)

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When I first came to Oregon, and I looked at how uniform

the yield management was being applied across the state,

and found that there's relatively low yield


And as a scientist, I was really intrigued by that.

Each site is unique.

Each site has different vine spacing, different root stocks,

different clones of pinot noir.

Yet, a lot of people are using a very narrow window

of yield targets.

It's believed that low yields equate to high quality.

Many of the premium wine regions throughout the world

have identified this parameter.

And our relatively young industry here in Oregon

adapted that parameter for premium production.

And over the years, when we've looked at production ability

within pinot noir specifically in Oregon, it really

led us to wonder, could we do more?

What is cluster thinning

I'm Patty Skinkis, Viticulture Extension Specialist

at Oregon State University.

I'm a faculty member working on outreach and research

within the Oregon Wine Research Institute.

A lot of the research that I've done over the years

comes into two distinct categories.

One is yield management and the other is sustainability.

And really they go hand in hand.

Cluster thinning is often employed

within vineyards each season, particularly premium wine

grapes such as pinot noir, to reduce

crop level to a point that is considered

to increase fruit quality.

A lot of winemakers believe that it

will concentrate flavors and produce a better quality

wine in the end.

Many of the producers of Oregon pinot noir

will reduce crop level by 10% to 40%.

This work is always done manually.

This is very costly for producers.


What is yield management

When I came in and I was really asking these questions,

the industry group said, hey, we would love to partner with you

to test this scientifically and do it

in a scientifically appropriate way

that we haven't been able to do on our own.

Back in 2012, we embarked on our first season

of doing a yield management trial that involves growers

as well as OSU to explore how crop thinning within vineyards

down to two or three different crop levels

and how that is impacting our fruit quality at harvest,

but also the wine quality based on sensory evaluation.

Yield management begins in the vineyard as early as bud

development and carries through fruit development.

When we look at the bud we can actually

see it formed here already during this growing season.

And it's producing the fruit or has

developed the fruit for next growing season

and will determine how much fruit we produce next year.

In that process, the vine is physiologically

moving around nutrients and carbohydrates

to develop both the bud and the fruit,

but also developing what are known as floral initials

or little tiny clusters within the bud.

There's different practices that can affect this fruitfulness.

Our yields are determined by what's developed in the bud.

So not just looking at what crop is on this vine,

but how are we altering that nutrient and carbohydrate

stream that's feeding these tiny buds.

Yield development can change year to year.

Pinot noir, in general, is known as a low-yielding variety.

So when we come into a season, we

want to know how much fruit are we dealing with.

Growers spend a lot of time trying to figure out

how much fruit is there.

But they oftentimes aren't looking at the bud.

That what we do in a season prior or possibly

even two years prior, might be affecting the current season's


So we've done this research to look at both perspectives.

What is this season's crop doing, but

what are our potential impacts by doing different vineyard

management practices on that bud and how

is that impacting our yield potential from year to year?

This is our sixth season and we hope

to go for a total of 10 years.

And the long-term nature of that work

is really required to understand how yield management is really

going to be necessary or unnecessary

under certain vineyard conditions,

as well as under certain climatic conditions

in a given year.

Within the first five years of the project,

we had moderate to very warm seasons

and we have yields that ranged from normal to very high.

How can we exploit that variability in the seasons

to come up with guidelines for growers down the road,

so that they aren't hand tied by a very rigid yield management

guideline that's basically restricting them

to a certain production level?

That's the long-term goal of that study

is to really understand from that producer level

how what they're doing in the vineyard

is affecting the end product.

We might be able to reduce some of those labor costs

by not crop thinning as much and also potentially having

higher yields.

It's not saying that you don't have to crop thin at all.

But if you have more of a certain quality of fruit,

you might be able to have higher volume of quality wine

and therefore increase the total profit per acre.

Those projects have really helped

us to see the long-term effects of things

that maybe vineyards take for granted, and giving them

some opportunity to adjust what they've always done exploring

new and potentially better wines by looking

at their yields a bit more carefully.


Patty Skinkis is a viticulture Extension Specialist and a core researcher with the Oregon Wine Research Institute, based at Oregon State University. Her research focuses on how yield affects quality. It starts in the lab, with examining the buds, and continues into the field, with testing various amounts of thinning, and then to evaluating the quality of the wine. Special Thanks to: Bill Boggess, Executive Associate Dean, OSU College of Agricultural Sciences Danielle Gabriel, inspiration for OWRI research video series

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