An area of 285,300 acres. That’s how much space is taken up by the vineyards in Napa and Sonoma Valleys, let alone the rest of northern California. With that much coverage and all the award-winning wines that come out of the area, you can bet plenty of maintenance goes into every acre.
Due to the distinct local micro-climates, this area in northern California has the ideal climate for raising a vineyard. If you’ve never raised a vineyard or even grown grapes, you might be surprised at the kind of care that goes into producing them. Vines are managed differently depending on the vineyard’s approach. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll focus on the basic practices of an average smaller vineyard in northern California.
Pests, Mildew and Weeds
Ecology is important to many vineyard owners in this area. Smaller vineyards sometimes use non-chemical practices to stave off pests, mildew and weeds. Disking is one method used for weeding and is performed by using a disk or harrow to unsettle the soil. It is simple and inexpensive, yet very effective. The mulch produced by disking captures critical moisture needed for the dry farmed vines. Mildew is controlled by open-head pruning the vines.
Pruning serves several purposes in that it keeps the vine in a form that will reserve labor and facilitate cultivation; controls disease and pests; and is used to thin and harvest the grapes. It also allows for strategically positioning the bearing wood to equalize growth and produce major crops of high-quality fruit. In addition, it saves labor and costs for thinning to control the growth and is the least expensive method to reduce the number of clusters for a more robust flavor.
Open-head pruning limits the height at which the vine can grow, often three feet, forcing new growth to form from the trunk. This type of pruning enables the flower centers to receive sunlight from all directions. Pruning is usually done between December and March to generate new growth. Summer pruning is a form of pruning that results in less trauma to the plant. It consists of pinching off overly aggressive growth and picking off dead leaves. It is also important to remove water-sprouts that spring up on the trunk and branches.
For young vines, training is necessary to shape them. As the vines grow, they are attached to certain forms of support. Training determines the direction and form of the trunk and vines and the placement of the shoots that come out of the buds retained when pruned. Training essentially forms the future growth framework of the vines.
Grape harvesting is performed by hand-picking or mechanical harvesting using a device attached to a tractor that beats the grapes off the vine. Some vineyards in northern California still use manual labor to hand-pick the harvest. The advantages are that the laborer can more gently handle the grapes and can discern the quality of the fruit to ensure only healthy bunches are picked.
Now that you’re informed on the basics of how to maintain a vineyard, you may be interested in planting a tiny vineyard in your own backyard. Check out a book or two from the local library, and visit local vineyards for different planting styles. With a little bit of ingenuity and effort, you could be making your own vino in no time!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sherry Zander holds the title of “resident garden expert” in her small corner of Kansas. Years of gardening practice developed Sherry’s expertise and broadened her knowledge in the field. Not only has she become well-versed in botany, but flower gardening is her specialty due to her extensive experience in successfully establishing and maintaining her own gardens, retaining walls and ponds. You’ll find her articles on websites like eHow, wiseGEEK and About.com.