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Starting Your Own California Vineyard

Essay by   •  December 28, 2010  •  Essay  •  1,917 Words (8 Pages)  •  1,776 Views

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Sitting in class, gazing at images of scenic vineyards from around the world, I yearn to be there. They all seem as tranquil as they are appealing to the eye. Yet driven by these peaceful plots is a thriving industry. The wine industry is amidst a golden age as production and quality are reaching new highs in places all over the world. So can I be a part of this golden age? Can a small investment of just a few acres become profitable and provide high quality wine grapes? The following is an attempt to further explore my dream of owning a vineyard by determining basic processes and costs necessary to run a successful vineyard.

The process of conceptualizing a new vineyard started with determining what general area of the world it would lay. An American vineyard is attractive in this case as there are no issues with citizenship and/or language. From New England, to the Midwest, to out west; vineyards exist all over the United States. California's booming grape and wine industry, along with superb growing conditions, makes it an attractive option for a vineyard. By beginning to narrow in on a region for a vineyard, it becomes possible to conjure potential varietals to be grown. Pinot Noir is currently the highest valued grape in California and although difficult to grow has great return potential.

One of the oldest grape varieties, the wine from these grapes has been enjoyed by ancient Romans and all those who enjoy the great burgundy pinot noirs of today. Its age and genetic instability has produced hundreds of clones. In selecting a clone, small quality berries are important for good berry-skin ratio and a high quality wine. Additionally, a clone with loose berry clusters is more resistant to botrytis, an undesirable fungus that removes water from grapes. Keeping quality and botrytis resistance in mind, pinot noir clone 777 was selected as it is characterized by small quality grapes and botrytis resistance. Additional characteristics of clone 777 relative to other pinot noirs include a short life cycle (late bud burst and early maturity), higher degree of sugar content, moderate yields and weak acidity.

With region and clone selection complete, specific site selection is the next step. Somona's reputation for producing good pinot noirs makes the county an ideal choice. Pinot Noirs fondness of the cold seems to be especially satisfied with one particular AVA in Somona. The Russian River Valley in Somona is blanketed by a cooling fog from the Pacific Ocean every evening. These cool nights allow the pinot noir grape vine to use less energy at night and enhance overall quality of berry. Although selecting this particular AVA gives insight into the climate of the area, the amount of soil type variability could be particularly high. Specific site soil analysis would need to be conducted on site in the form of an electromagnetic conductivity survey.

Upon acquiring land, soil should be deep ploughed when dry in winter to improve aeration and consequently overall soil quality. In spring, grafted clone 777 bud and American phyloxxera resistant root stock will be planted. A planting density of 1000 vines per acre will be used, with support from a bilateral cordon-trained tressel system. For first season's growth, two branches off scion and two branches off of root will be allowed to grow. The following spring buds will be repressed to promote establishment of a single trunk. Moving through the second grow season, single shoot development establishes cordons. By spring of the third year, a single curtain bilateral cordon should be developed. During growth of the same year, vines must be grown edge to edge to maximize canopy. During late February of the following year, dormant pruning will take place - removing 90% of vine - and will be conducted at the same time every subsequent year. Vine should be pruned back to two buds and five canes during spring of fourth year. The small cane number can result in smaller yields but also higher quality grapes. The growth season of the fourth year is the first time the vine is allowed to fruit. Regular pruning should continue during this time to promote berry development. Finally, machine driven harvest will likely occur during the month of October on a cool night, which is the most ideal condition to harvest.

In respect to increasing harvest quality, recent trends have suggested that a more organic process may be directly correlated with higher quality grapes. One easily implemented organic process is the notion of cover crops. Cover crops are planted between rows of vines and serve to add organic and fix nitrogen. Common cover crops in the Somona are including grasses and leguminous crops. A mixture of these will be planted amongst the vineyard. Blended and spread with compost to further enrich soil. Lime may also be contained within the mixture to help balance ph.

Despite any organic effort to improve quality, a successful harvest is unlikely without proper irrigation. Assuming an existing water supply, a drip irrigation system will be installed to irrigate vines. A drip irrigation system is a high efficiency water distribution system that slowly drips water onto the root zone through a network of valves and pipes. A high initial cost system, investment is balanced by low labor requirements for easily adjustable system. An additional component of the water distribution system is overhead sprinklers that are used for frost prevention by spraying water on buds.

Thus far, many details regarding plans for growing high quality pinot noir grapes have been established. However, plans can often fail. By identifying and accounting for specific risks for a vineyard, the probability of success can be maximized. Some risks have already been identified and accounted for including Phyloxxera, botrytis and frost. The American root stock planted is resistant to the devastating insect, Phyloxxera. The sprinklers overhead account for the frost risk. The botrytis fungus sucks water from berries and the risk is partially accounted for by the natural resistance of the pinot noir clone. Botrytis is more likely to thrive in hot and humid conditions; consequently, leaf pruning can decrease its likelihood of forming by increasing air movement. While Botrytis likes a hot and humid climate, another fungus, powdery mildew, is a risk with cool and wet conditions. Powdery mildew is very destructive, affecting all parts of the plant. Lime sulfur, sulfur dusting and repeated fungicide applications all discourage the formation of powdery mildew. Additionally, prevention of other fungi including black rot, bitter rot and Angular leaf scorch can be achieved by following same approach as with powdery mildew.

In respect to bacterial diseases, two are particularly harmful to pinot noir. The first, Crown Gall disease is synonymous with the formation of tumors in dicots. The disease attacks

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