Planting a Vineyard

Preparing for the Future





In addition to the usual summer chores of leaf pulling and shoot positioning so the grape clusters get the optimal amount of sunshine and air flow, Dutton Ranch is also busy planting new vineyards.

In planting a new vineyard, the first decision to make is what to plant at the site. What does the site lend itself to? is it high or low vigor? Is it cool or warmer? What is the exposure and aspect? What's the soil type, fertility, and drainage? And what do you think the future wine market will be looking for—is there a hot new clone all the winemakers are interested in trying? Once you decide the variety best suited to the site, you move on to the actual preparation and planning for planting, and a whole new set of decisions.

Spacing: For smaller vines with less than 1 pound of fruit per vine (and more intense fruit), you'll space the vines closer together. This involves more supplies and labor, so the costs of the harvest will be more. For more vigorous areas, vines are typically spaced farther apart. In both cases, you want to create a balance between the vine and fruit. Typical spacing today is rows 8 feet apart and vines 5 feet; in the past, 12x6 and then 11x7 were standard spacing. The closest spacing, for some pinot noir, is 7x4.

Soil: The soil may need to be amended prior to planting. Your goal is a mostly neutral soil. Calcium is a common addition, which increases the pH (thereby lowering the acidity). A soil analysis will also help determine the best rootstock for the site; 101-14 is the most common rootstock we use in our area.

Row Direction: Without wind to take into consideration in our part of the world, we strive to have the vines as close to running in a north/south direction as possible. This faces the broad side of the vines east so the leaves can do their work most efficiently. We may alter the direction somewhat if we're planting on a steep hill, in which case up and down is best for erosion control purposes.

Once the area is cleared and the soil prepared, the process of planting a vineyard starts with marking out the square corners using a surveyors tripod. Using these ends, a line is drawn between which has knots at the appropriate spacing; white powder marks the spots on the soil. Keeping square as you go, each successive row is marked, then stakes are driven in for the ends and where each vine will be planted.

The crew then moves along as a team, one digging a hole, another holding the baby vine in place, and another covering the roots and about half of the vine with soil. Afterward, each planting is watered well and nursery cartons are placed over the newly planted vines to give them a protected, warm, cozy home to begin their lives.