Dan Nickolaus demonstrates how the trellis arms fold together during harvest.

Dan Nickolaus demonstrates how the trellis arms fold together during harvest.

Initially, it was the trellis concept–not the biodynamic farming aspect–that was the sticking point as the den Hoeds considered involvement in Randall Graham’s wine grape project.

Bill den Hoed said that in their desolate corner of the Horse Heaven Hills appellation, labor availability would be a major issue in a vineyard only picked by hand. Mechanical harvesting would have to be an option for any trellis style.

"There’s no way we could get all the workers we would need to hand pick grapes in our location,"den Hoed said. "We had to have a trellis that could handle  a machine for harvest."Bleyhl Farm ­Service in Grandview designed a unique folding trellis similar to the Geneva double-curtain system, but with arms that fold vertically during harvest. Without folding arms, a harvester is only able to pick about two-thirds of the crop grown on the GDC trellis, den Hoed commented.

Den Hoed, who credits Bleyhl’s Joel DeLeon with the trellis design, calls it the "fuzzy folder."It was named after the Fuzzy Navel drink that DeLeon had in the middle of the night while working on the design just hours before den Hoed was reluctantly going to place the trellis order with an out-of-state supplier.

The elaborate trellis system, which creates an umbrella-like canopy, has eight wires, steel structures every 15 feet, and notched plastic pipes intermittently spaced throughout the vineyard. It is not cheap. Materials would probably be cost prohibitive under today’s steel prices, said den Hoed, noting that the vineyard was planted in 2005.

Last fall was the first test of the trellis’s suitability to mechanical harvesting. With their new Gregoire harvester, den Hoed said the harvester picking head tilted in and out and was able to bring the trellis arms together without an arm-gathering device used first. The harvester and trellis system was a match, he said.