Viticulture

‘X’ marks the spot..or does it?

Q: Where should your grapevines go?

A: In the ground.

Not so fast. It’s soooo much more complex than that! Sorry!

So you’ve purchased your perfect vineyard site and you’re ready to plant. Well, there are several things you need to consider before popping those little green darlings into the ground!

  • Elevation- How high above sea level is your vineyard site? Are some areas higher or lower than others? What are the optimum elevations for the types of grapes you wish to grow?
  • Slope- Is your land flat, slightly hilly or does it have cliffs? Ideally, land that is gradually sloping is more favorable to one with steep ridges because it is very difficult to drive machinery along hillsides. Additionally, take note of neighboring properties. Do any of them have cliffs or areas that might shadow your property at specific times of day?
  • Aspect- Does your land face Northwards, Southwards, Eastwards or Westwards? Are there any combinations of slopes (eg: NW, SE etc…)? Basically, this is important for determining how the sun will shine on your vines. Also, take not of any tall trees, buildings or other things that might shade your vines. Remember the position of the sun changes throughout the growing season.
  • Soil types- You need to know all the different types of soil that collectively make up your piece of land. You can find this on the USDA’s soil survey website. You may think you know your dirt, but not until you’ve check with this website will you really have the lowdown!
  • Airflow- This isn’t something that you might necessarily consider. However, it’s important. One vineyard I worked in had a regular afternoon breeze that would consistently pass through the vineyard. Knowing this can help with pest management control because greater airflow increases the health of the vineyard. Additionally, it’s critical when deciding which way the vineyard rows should go in order to facilitate and maintain healthy airflow throughout the vineyard.
  • Macroclimate- Basically, this is the general climate of your particular region. Does it rain a lot? What is the average high/low in early spring? When can you expect the first frost of the autumn? You need to know this because the typical number of days that vines grow in your area will affect which types of grapes to plant. This will of course be an average but you should also consult neighboring vineyards to see what they’re growing. This will give you an idea of what grows best in your area. Most viticultural areas will have an online resource where they publicly record growing degree days, vintage weather patterns and tons of other information that any viticulturalist will find useful.
  • Microclimate- This is the climate of your specific vineyard site and you might not have just one! For example, one vineyard I worked in had a frost pocket during the early spring and late autumn. As a result, the owners refrained from planting vines in this area because their growing season would have been significantly shorter than other vines in the vineyard. Additionally, bodies of water (ie: ponds, streams etc…) also cause temperature changes. It’s best to take temperature readings throughout your future vineyard site to determine exactly what different microclimates exist.

If you are at all confused by any of these criteria, or want to have a professional opinion, then find a local vineyard management company or vineyard consultant that comes highly recommended. The best way to find one is by asking around. Go to a vineyard that you regard as having high quality wines and ask who they use. The wine community is usually tightly connected and everyone will know someone who will guide you in the right direction.

Once you’ve figured out where to plant on your piece of land, then you are ready to plan your vineyard. So what are you waiting for? Let the planning and planting begin!