Planting a Vineyard – Design and Management
When planting a vineyard, having a vineyard design that complements your management plan so from day one is a key part of operating a successful vineyard. However, highlighting the variances and minimising their affect to create balanced, uniform growth whilst yielding good volumes or high-quality fruit with minimal intervention is what makes vineyards efficient and highly profitable.
Planting density is the number of vines planted per hectare (10,000 m2) and is calculated as: 10,000 / (row width * row spacing).
Densities can vary from 1,500 to 10,000 vines per hectare but it’s not as simple as planting more vines will result in higher yields. Vines naturally compete for water, light and nutrients, therefore vines in denser plantings have to compete more with neighbouring vines, resulting in fewer shoots and smaller bunches so less kg per vine, where as a low-density planting has less competition and is therefore capable of ripening a greater number of larger bunches, so more kg per vine.
There are many things that can influence planting density, but four main factors to consider are:
- Varieties & wine style
- Site capacity (ability to support shoot growth and ripen fruit)
- Management ethos (i.e. conventional or organic)
- Mechanisation & machinery availability
Row orientation is important particularly when planting on a slope. Vines planted on a southerly slope at a north-south orientation will maximise light interception with each side of the canopy receiving half of the daily sun. This doesn’t mean you should plant to a north-south orientation no matter what. Planting across slopes at a gradient greater than 10 degrees should be avoided as this will greatly affect the efficiency of vineyard operations while increasing the risk of machinery overturning causing operator injury. Vineyards can be planted on north facing slopes or flat ground; however, this can impact fruit quality with increased shading and disease incidence, therefore care must be taken when making variety selection.
Typically, row length is governed by site boundaries or topography. Long rows make machinery work efficient as less time is spent turning, however working in 500m long rows can be demoralising for manual workers and greatly affect worker output. Row length also has an effect on the trellis system, with longer rows putting increased strain on the posts and wires. This is exacerbated when planting on steep slopes, uneven terrain or across valleys, therefore it is not uncommon to have a break in the trellis. Rows at 200m generally provide a good working balance without damaging the integrity of the trellis.
Block Size when planting a vineyard
When planting a vineyard we want to fully utilise the available planting area, however having designated blocks allows vineyard managers to operate at a more detailed level apply appropriate treatments and practices on a block by block basis, which can greatly improve efficiency and management costs.
Blocks can sometimes be determined by field size or changes in soil type, however more often they are divided by variety and clone type. Block allocation that also considers fruit quality, total tonnage, finished wine style and anticipated harvest dates can further improve vineyard efficiency making your vineyard a lot easier to run.
There are several different trellis training systems used across the world and selecting a system that will allow you to effectively manage the vine canopy so that you can ripen the quality and quantity of grapes that you desire is key. Containing vine growth whilst improving the canopy micro-climate is the primary function of a trellis. In English vineyards, vertical shoot positioning (VSP) trellis systems are the main choice as they allow the vines canopies to be easily managed, increasing light interception and airflow which improves ripening whilst reducing disease risk.
Trellis posts are typically galvanised steel or wood. Steel posts are quick and easy to install or replace if they become damaged. Wooden posts are seen to be more aesthetically pleasing but need to be treated if they are going to last more than a few years, which results in a higher purchase price. Trellising isn’t cheap but if done correctly you should only need to do it once. Trellis failures and the resulting repairs can be very expensive and labour intensive.
Ground Preparation & Planting
Getting your new vines to establish quickly is all down to meticulous ground preparation. All nutrient and pH imbalances highlighted by soil analysis should be applied and incorporated into the soil weeks in advance. Prior to planting, all further ground preparation work should be completed. This can be carried out using a range of machines which is highly influenced by soil type and ground conditions. Whether machine or hand planting, the aim is to create a fine tilth that will surround the roots when planted, preventing air pockets from forming which can dry out vine roots.
Timing of ground preparation is crucial to getting your vineyard off to a good start. Of course, mother nature doesn’t always conform, but it’s important to know that preparing the soil too early or too late can greatly affect soil moisture, which may result in your vines needing to be irrigated.