Langlois Grapevine Stripping Machine

August 2009

A machine developed to strip grapevines and save time in vineyard maintenance

In 2007, Walter Langlois developed a vine stripper which pulls pruned canes through the top of support wires. The following year he added a device which directs the material back into the inter-row area, then an attachment which first shreds the waste cane. The latest development is a double-headed stripper which works two rows at a time.

Machinery Services has a history of improving and creating new automation processes and machinery in the meat, perfume, soap and structural steel industries both in New Zealand and overseas.

The company was established by Walter Langlois who took the business with him when he made a lifestyle move from Auckland to the winegrowing region of Marlborough in 2007.

Pruning grapes on the small vineyard he’d bought, Walter decided there had to be a better way of stripping canes from vines than pulling them downward by hand. At first he tried using a ladder and lifting them upward, then came up with the idea of a machine to do the job.

Walter soon recognised the potential for a machine that would automate and mechanise the labour-intensive process of stripping after pruning. Labour shortages, injuries and the cost of hand-pruning provided impetus for development.

Langlois sales manager Hamish Young is a grapegrower and vineyard consultant with experience in vineyard machinery technical set-up and marketing, as well as a real estate agent.

Walter Langlois designed a prototype vine stripper the year he arrived in Marlborough. This worked by pulling pruned vines up through the top of the wires with two grip wheels, eliminating the need for workers to laboriously strip out this material.

In 2008, a shroud was added above the grip wheels which directed cane between the rows. The next step was the addition of a device which shredded cut cane and deposited this material between the rows; two jobs in one pass. The latest development is a version which works two rows at a time.

The stripper device is raised or lowered with a joy stick or hand-held remote. It can be driven either using the tractor’s hydraulics or from an independent power pack with its own oil supply, mounted on the three point linkage and using the tractor’s power take-off (PTO). The latter system is required to run the optional shredder.

About 40 Langlois Vine Strippers have been manufactured for Machinery Services at Burleigh Engineering in Blenheim, five at a time. These have mostly sold to large wine companies and vineyard contractors within Marlborough. Sales have not yet been pushed hard outside the district, as the technology is still being developed.

Marlborough grapegrower Murray Gane bought a Langlois Vine Stripper last season for $32,000, and says it had paid for itself in its first season of operation.

The 58 hectare Gane vineyard grows around 125,000 vines, producing grapes for wine companies Babich and Nautilus.

Murray breaks pruning down into three jobs; cutting vines, stripping out the waste-wood, and tying down. Stripping is the hardest and least popular of these jobs and the most likely to cause physical injuries. Strippers are difficult to retain through a full season so are paid at the highest rate.

Many of the foreign workers we now employ aren’t robust enough for this work,” says Murray.

By removing the toughest job, the Vine Stripper immediately reduced costs. The manufacturers claim it works about 25 times faster a person, covers 3.2 hectares per day on a three metre row, and saves around 20% of pruning hours.

However, it’s the opportunity to upskill his workforce that Murray has most appreciated, since buying the machine. “We are now able to put people into more skilled areas where they get greater job satisfaction.”

Murray is impressed at the quality of engineering seen in the stripper, which is not only well designed but also robust, he says. For now, he uses a ‘mark one’ stripper, with no shredding attachment. A mulcher is always pulled behind the tractor when the stripper’s being used, so he sees no advantage in having the attachment retro-fitted. However, in a stony vineyard it would be a different story, he suggests. By lifting the shredding function to canopy height, damage to machinery by stones was avoided.

People power is still needed to prune vines, ahead of the stripper doing its job. Preparing the vines involves cutting the old cordon into suitable lengths for removal and trimming wanted vines just below the top wire so they can’t be pulled through the stripper.

Vines must be summer trimmed leaving at least 250-300mm of cane above the posts and wire.

Murray Gane finds some following up behind the Stripper is needed to remove missed cane, especially in the Scott Henry canopy system where canes are pruned downwards as well as upwards. However, little cane is missed in the Vertical Shoot Positioning (VSP) system which has become the standard way of growing grapes.