Can I prune old grape vines to get canes closer to base?

I inherited a bunch of grape vines last year. I know nothing about grapes, but have tried to learn about pruning from the internet.
Our plants have thick wood at the base; I don't know how old they are, but the trunks are about two inches across; maybe about five inches in diameter.
I tried pruning them yesterday, and discovered that the trucks go a LOOONNNNG way before sending out canes. Some of the trunks are bent and curled, often sending out canes as much as three feet from where the trunk comes out of the ground. All the info I have seen assumes a short trunk with canes coming out just a few inches above the ground, but on these plants you have to travel quite a bit to get to new growth. I suspect the plants were not trained well earlier, and the pruning took place farther and farther from the base each year.
My question is, is there any way to sort of train these back to getting growth closer to the base? It seems like there is a lot of wasted space now, as the trunks go several feet out of the ground before any growth. The trunks are heavy and lean on the wires. All websites I have looked at give instructions for pruning based on a plant that has been trained well to grow from the base. I can't seem to find any info on pruning grapes that have such long trunks.
Any information or web sites would be greatly appreciated. --Suzanne
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Suzanne D. wrote:

Probably due to improper pruning when they were young. Grape vines have what is known as terminal dominance. The energy will go to the end of the cordons first. If the cordons were too long initially, all the energy went to the ends.
You could consider "Heading" the vines. This means severe pruning in which you cut back to where the trunk, or more properly called Cordons, go from vertical to horizontal on the wire. New shoots will grow from near the head and you can train them to be your new cordons (horizontal portions of the trunk). You will have very little or no fruit the first year after this procedure. After the new cordons go dormant in the fall, prune them back to about a foot or 18 inches in length and every year you can extend them about 6 inches or so until you have the cordon length you want. After dormancy, prune the canes growing from the new cordons to create two bud spurs on the cordons. This is for cordon / spur pruning. If you decide to go with cane pruning (which is slightly more difficult to learn how to do properly) you can leave two canes about several feet in length. It is important to know what variety of grape you have because some varieties produce very well on cordon / spur pruning but a few varieties do not have very fruitful buds for the first several buds and therefore you need to cane prune the vine.
I highly recommend the book "From Vines to Wine" by Jeff Cox - even if you are not growing the grapes for wine production. It is one of the best book I have found on pruning and is very inexpensive. It has numerous line drawings showing you how to prune from year to year.
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Thanks very much for the information. I will look more into heading, and will try to find out what types we have in order to prune them correctly in the future.
One more question: a few of the plants have some suckers at the bottom. Would it be okay to allow these to grow to eventually take the place of the older plants, or should I eliminate these altogether? --Suzanne

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Suzanne D. wrote:

This depends on whether the vine was planted from a graft on rootstock or self rooted. If it was a grafted vine it depends where the suckers are located. If it was a grafted vine make sure the sucker(s) is above the the graft union otherwise you will be growing the root stock instead of what you want.
Generally every year it is a good idea to allow a couple suckers to grow to shoots in case you need to replace the trunk or cordon because of winter kill or disease. If they are not needed, you can prune them off the following year or prune back to one or two buds.
If you presently have a couple shoots near the head of the vine (where the trunk goes horizontal to form the cordons), you could cut off your old cordons and use the shoots for your new cordon. This would in effect be cane pruning and the shoots would produce fruit. There is a LOT of energy in the old trunk and roots. You will be surprised at how fast the vine jumps back to vigor.
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sure to look up that one. But yes, check if it's suited to what you have.
--
Homo sapiens is a goal, not a description

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Larry Blanchard wrote:

In my opinion, probably the easiest "Trellising" system to establish is the Vertical Shoot Positioning (VSP). But I am afraid we are branching into a new subject area. There are only two "Pruning" methods 1) Cordon Spur and 2) Cane.
There are, however, many different "Trellising" systems that can be used for each of these two basic pruning systems. This is one reason I recommend the book by Cox. Besides doing a very good job of explaining the two basic pruning methods, he does a good job explaining the various trellising systems. In my 112 vine backyard vineyard, I use the "Lyre" trellising system for part of it and the other part is VSP. For both systems I use cordon-spur pruning.
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Thanks to everyone for the info. I now know what topics to look into for more information, now that I am headed in a more specific direction. --S.

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