The Goblet Project: Training the head

Doug Timewell discusses head training vines.

Doug Timewell discusses head training vines.

Over the past year, I’ve been visiting the Arroyo Grande Valley to work on a video project. I was collaborating with Doug Timewell, who grows Zinfandel and Petite Sirah on head-trained vines and makes wines under his Toucan Wines label.

Doug and I met to film several times during the 2011 season to document key stages in the management of  he head-trained, spur-pruned canopy system.

When I planted the first block of my vineyard, I was relying on the advice of my friend, Jeff Miller, to make vineyard decisions. Together, we decided that head-trained vines would be a good choice for my vineyard because of the local climate as well as my budget.

While Jeff has freely shared what he knows about growing grapes and making wine, I still had many questions he could not answer. These had to do with the details of developing a goblet. With a paucity of detailed, step-by-step information about this canopy system, I found myself flying blind, not sure how to go about the process.

Head-training and spur-pruning is among the oldest and simplest canopy systems. So, establishing a vineyard of vines trained this way should not be rocket science. Yet, I did not know how to get from the new benchgrafts I’d just put in the ground to those distinct, goblet-shaped vines associated with California’s oldest vineyards.

I reached out to Doug Timewell and the conversation led to this unique opportunity to learn from him and document the management of goblet trained vines.

This first of five videos focuses on training newly-planted vines into a goblet and then training up and establishing goblet-shaped vines. In order to get from that first shoot to six or eight widely-spaced arms on the finished head, a primary bifurcation, then a secondary and, finally a tertiary bifurcation must be created. I structured this video to illustrate the wrong way and the right way to go about this.

The other videos will discuss Pruning, Shoot Thinning, Cane Training and Pre-harvest Netting.



Father, husband, physician, amateur guitarist, wine lover, wine writer, wine grower and wine maker trying to do it all within eye shot of downtown Los Angeles.
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15 Responses to The Goblet Project: Training the head

  1. Martyn says:

    Very, very interested to come across this. I’m setting up a vineyard at home in Oxfordshire, England, with a couple of dozen vines. The vines will simply have to go where there is free space, and a free standing vine trained Goblet or Mosel-Heart seems perfect. I’m very interested to see how you get on.

  2. Martyn says:

    That always seems to be the advice but I still manage to make cracking good wines every year!
    Luckily for the amateur looking after the vines is a pleasure rather than a chore, which no doubt helps. Plus some carefully chosen “temperate” varieties.
    Really enjoyed the video, by the way.

  3. SUAMW says:

    Well, that is as fascinating as it is seemingly counter-intuitive. But then, there are en gobelet vines in Vourvray…

    Which cultivars are you growing and vinifying?

  4. Martyn says:

    Being a red fan, I can get a fresh fruity wine from Regent and a Seyve-Villard variant.
    For the wife, a so-so white from Phoenix.
    I think the use of a refractometer is vital so that you know to hold out for the sugar % to rise in October. It can be a bit nerve racking. And you need bird netting otherwise the crop can disappear overnight.

    I’ve also got a Thompson up against a fence for early eating grapes (ripens in September, which people also keep telling me isn’t possible!).
    Site, soil and species. Worth paying attention to.

    I was very interested in the head cutting video. I have let my initial plantings grow a single main leader (as all the books tell you), and then cut back to “head” height, thinking that this year’s growth would form the arms of the goblet. It now seems I may have to revisit this idea.
    I’m now thinking that I should cut them down again and then when this year’s leader is the correct height I should remove it so as to develop the lateral shoots as per your video.
    Who knew it could be so complicated. I just want to make wine . . .

    • SUAMW says:

      I thought it would be easy too. If your trunk is not too barked over and you are still getting plenty of suckers, I would use those suckers to get your first two arms (the first bifurcation). Then, once you get secondary and tertiary bifurcations, you can clean up the inside of the goblet.
      Remember the cardinal rule: you can always take it away later, but you can’t put it back once it’s gone. Hold off on cutting back the trunk and just cut your flowers this year instead. Pull unwanted suckers and laterals to build up your first bifurcation.

  5. Pingback: Good Reads Wednesday « Artisan Family of Wines

  6. Vojta says:

    Hallo, I have platned about 100 vines at my house this spring and decided to make a goblet trained vineyard. As you mentined, this method is among the oldest, so no one can remember, how to start 🙂 So I am happy I found your webside. So this weekend I am going to cut the tops of some vines, several are more than one meter. I did not know about necessity of this action. I think 1/2 meter will be enough. In my opinion simple drawing of prune cuting each year would be very helpfull. Thank you and greetings from Prague, Czech republic.

    • SUAMW says:

      Hi Vojech

      Thanks. What varieties are you growing?

      I’ve had some delays in finishing the other videos. Will send you additional info by email.

      On rare occasions, when you leave only two arms on the first pruning, the buds on one arm can fail the next year.
      For that reason, it may be good to allow laterals at the top two or three positions as shown in these pictures I am sending you.

      • Vojta says:

        Hi Arthur,
        thank you for the email. Since my area is in the central Europe, so it is the best suitable for whites. I chose two varieties, that are resistent to deseases – Malverina (hybrid of Malvasia, Merlot and two others) and Saphira (again hybrid, Pinot blanc style). I am not going to use any chemicals so, these varieties were recommended to me as the most suitable for the style and location. We will see in several years 🙂

      • SoccerCA says:

        Hi SUAMW, any chance you could post those pictures. Thanks in advance.

  7. Michael stiwich says:


    I just saw your video on goblet trained vines. I am interested in understanding more about this. When you allow your canes to grow off of the head how long do you keep them tied up to form the canes pointing to the sky? How many nodes should the canes be coming off of the head, so I have read 2 to 4 nodes per cane. So, when would you cut the canes after the first year of growth during pruning about March? Or would you cut the canes at about 2 to 4 nodes while it is growing? How do you prune the canes when they have formed during pruning season? Etc.

    • SUAMW says:

      I will have more videos about this coming. Had a bad year last year and, along with a dying computer, it was difficult to produce the footage I have from the entire season for this project.
      To your Questions:
      1. Keep everything tied up for the season, pruning in the subsequent winter after the canes lignify. – After they have gone fully dormant but before budbreak – if you have apical buds leafing, they will suppress basal ones and delay your basal buds. Not the end of the world, but will cause a shift in the season.
      2. As with all other training systems, you prune back to 2 buds. This keeps annual new growth to a slow creep. Remember that you will get shoots out of older areas covered with bark and after you have about 4 inches of growth you’ll have to shoot thin. May have to repeat later in the season (before fruit set, generally).
      3. You cut with pruning shears. Avoid pruning within 7-10 days of rain – eutypa risk.
      4. You can test if a cane is dormant by taking a pencil-sized cane and making a circumferential incision around where you want to cut. Wait a few minutes. If it weeps, the cane is not dormant. Repeat in a week or so.

  8. Joey says:

    Hi. This is a really helpful instruction. Any updates on when you will post the next chapters?

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