This blog post is the first part of a two-part series on the six essential things you must understand and evaluate to start and grow a successful vineyard. Starting and running a vineyard is expensive – $20,000 to $25,000 per acre – not including fencing, equipment, and irrigation. It’s important you do your research and learn all that you can about the site you picked out before you plant a single vine.
In episode 32 of the podcast, I talked with two experienced grape growers, Dan Limoges and David Higginbotham. They provided their first-hand perspectives of the challenges they faced when first starting their vineyards. Dan discussed the challenge of finding an ideal site for his vineyard in Georgia and the prep required to begin growing. David shares the lessons he has learned about being prepared for both expected and unexpected vineyard risks.
Below is a summary of the first three essential factors for starting and growing a successful vineyard.
- Grapevine Anatomy & Growth
For detailed information and illustrations on the structure and growth of grapevines during dormancy and the growing season, get Fritz’s FREE Grapevine Anatomy and Growth Grower Guide. There is also an extensive video module about grapevine anatomy and growth in the online perspective wine grape grower course that you can find on virtualviticultureacademy.com.
- Vineyard Site Selection
There are four major features that influence a vineyard site: climate, soil quality, water quality, and topography. The climate includes the high and low temperatures, heat accumulation, number of frost free days, amount of rainfall an area gets (and the time of year that it rains), if the area is prone to hurricanes or drought, etc. When it comes to soil quality, you want your ground to be well-drained with at least 18 inches of good topsoil. You also need to take note of the pH, texture, structure, and water-holding capacity because grapes don’t like “wet feet.” If relying on irrigation, you need five to ten gallons of water per minute of well output per acre of grapes to keep a vineyard growing. And water must be tested for salts or any quality issues that might hinder vine growth. The topography must also be taken into consideration. Does the area have hills or slopes? Is it north or south-facing? How is the water and air drainage, and what is the proximity to the neighbors?
If you already own a piece of land, it may or may not be suitable for a vineyard. This is why many growers search for the best piece of land to purchase for vineyard development. Dan took three years to find an ideal plot of land to start his vineyard. He discovered some nice places, but the neighbors either didn’t want a vineyard next door, or they had a poultry farm with odor issues, or it was out of their price range. The site he settled on was partially forested, so once he purchased it, there was a lot of preparation involved to get the land prepared for planting vines.
- Risk Factors
Risk factors include everything from pests to disease and anything that can impede your ability to grow winegrapes successfully. These factors include fungal diseases, animals, insects, viruses, bacterial diseases, weather, and more. David Higginbotham discussed vineyard risk factors and shared the issues that have been the most challenging for him.
In his vineyard, the risk David was most prepared for was the wildlife. He had deer and bears getting into his vineyard and eating the vines and grapes as well as destroying the trellis. He had to put in an expensive fence to keep the wildlife out, and he adopted two Great Pyrenees dogs to protect the property. The risks that David felt less prepared for were Pierce’s disease (a bacterial disease that kills vines) and the extremes in weather. His advice to new growers is to gather the most information you can about your site and the meso climate to be as prepared as possible before you start planting.In part two, we will discuss the other essential factors for starting and growing a successful vineyard.
If you want to learn more now, check out https://www.vineyardundergroundpodcast.com/vu032.