- Determine your goal
- Vineyard site evaluation
- Determine layout and how many grapevines can be planted
- Identify, understand and quantify the costs to plant your vineyard
- Grapevine varietals, clone and rootstock selection.
- Identify, understand and quantify the time commitment required to plant your vineyard
Determine Your Goal
The thought of sitting on your porch or deck, staring out at your own vineyard is your dream. You love wine and would like to pour your own Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay or other varietals for friends and family. Are you dreaming or is it time to set a goal? A few questions to ponder.
- What do you know or not know about planting a vineyard and growing grapes?
- Do you really want a vineyard or just expensive landscaping?
- Will you plant and maintain the vineyard yourself or hire someone?
- What will you do with your grapes?
Vineyard Site Evaluation
More than likely you already have a site in mind and have given some consideration to its suitability for grape growing. Before proceeding let’s consider a few important factors that will impact the success of your (ends like this? sic)
- Site Size – estimate what your production will be.
- Measure to see how much plantable land is available.
- On a sheet of paper make a rough diagram using different assumptions on what your row and plant spacing will be (3x5, 4x6, 5x8, etc). This will give you a rough estimate of the number of grapevines that can be planted.
- Assuming each vine will produce 5 lbs. of grapes under each row and plant spacing assumption, is this too many, too little or just the right number of grapevines to plant for your wine making needs?
- Sun Exposure – the key to getting the maximum flavor from your grapes. Over exposure to the sun can result in sunburned grapes and excessive sugar levels. Under exposure to the sun and result in low sugar levels and acidic wines. Dappled light is the objective and is optimal for fruit growth and maturity.
- Will any part of your vineyard be shaded by trees, structures, etc. during the March through October growing season?
- Will your vineyard get sunlight from early morning until late afternoon?
- Water Accessibility and Availability– whether you’ll be hand watering or installing drip. A steady and sufficient supply of water is needed from a convenient source.
- Soil Drainage – grapevines do not like “wet feet” as it affects root growth and respiration. Does the site drain so that ponding doesn’t occur when it rains?
- Air Drainage - necessary to avoid frost. Is your site situated to allow cold, dense air to drain away from the vineyard?
- Wind – moderate is key. Is the wind sufficient to protect grapes from mold and mildew but not strong enough to affect respiration or cause vine damage?
- Aspect – orientation of a slope (North, South, East, West). Important only if slope is >5%. Greater erosion and nutrient loss concerns, can affect row orientation, and equipment usage. Bottom of slope may be susceptible to frost.
- Micro climates – warmer or cooler areas within your site. Is this a consideration?
- Soil test – fertile soil isn’t always the best. Nutrient poor soil or even dry poor soil will stress the vines, keep vigor down and produce small flavorful berries which is what you want. Have soil tested for properties (organic matter, pH, nutrients) and soil qualities. Also have tested for nematodes if tree fruit or crops susceptible to nematodes were previously grown.
- Water test – important if water source is from a well. Collect a sample and have it analyzed for pH, electrical conductivity, carbonate/bicarbonate, sodium, calcium, magnesium, potassium, nitrate nitrogen and sulfur. It’s easier to treat problem water than to fix a soil problem caused by water.
- Previous use of land – what was grown before and was it successful. Check native vegetation for death or poor growth, nutritional deficiencies and oak root fungus.
Determine layout and how many grapevines can be planted
Now that you have a site for your vineyard you want to determine layout and how many vines to plant. The number of vines to be planted drives cost and time commitments so this is an important decision.
- Vineyard layout - survey your site and layout primary benchmarks. Identify immovable objects like trees, rocks, septic field, Row orientation – south or southwest facing is best.
- Row and plant spacing – tighteo
- Allow 8 feet for a tractor to get down the row or 5 feet for a person. Remember, grapevines grow out as well as up.
- You can reduce vigor by closer plant spacing and forcing vines to compete for water and nutrients.
- Row length – don’t get boxed in. Allow room for turning around whatever equipment will be used.
- Scale drawing - direction of rows, trellis system, row and vine spacing, row length, irrigation, drainage system. This is will be your planting guide.
- Vineyard production – size matters. The scale drawing shows the number of vines that you will be planting. Is this what you want? Keep in mind that crop yields will vary from year-to-year so to be safe plant more vines than the exact amount you need.
Identify, understand and quantify the costs to plant your vineyard
Key step so that you don’t encounter unanticipated costs after you have started planting. At the end of this step you should have a complete and accurate budget that will help you avoid unpleasant surprises and help you determine if you have the necessary capital.
- Site evaluation
- Soil test – necessary to determine amendment and fertilizer needs.
- Saturation Percentage (SP) – measures soil texture, water-holding capacity, and cation exchange capacity.
- Acidity-Alkalinity (pH) – determines whether soil is acidic (pH 1-7), neutral (pH 7), or basic (pH 7-14).
- Soil Nutrient Status – N/P/K.
- Micro nutrients – iron, manganese, copper, boron, zinc, nickel, chlorine and molybdenum are required by grapevines. Must be neither inadequate nor excessive.
- Water test
- Toxicity – grapevines are sensitive to sodium and chloride.
- Nitrogen in well water.
- Permits – use permit required only when vineyard planting is ½ acre or more.
- Site preparation
- Labor – free or hired. Yours is free but someone you hire will want to be paid. Determine how much of the work you’ll do yourself versus hired labor.
- Equipment rental – need determined by what your site requires. Disking, ripping, etc.
- Fertilizer and amendments – determined by the results of the soil test. Add when ripping or disking soil. This is the first decision point for whether or not your vineyard will be organic or conventional.
- Trellising – no room for error/must have a life span equal to that of the grapevines. Purchase posts, wire, grape stakes, post hole digger, post driver
- Irrigation – tubing, emitters, connectors, timer
- Pest control – gopher baskets, deer/rabbit fencing.
- Cover crop – your soil has been disturbed and will need to be protected until it’s time to plant.
- Tools and Equipment – in addition to basic home and garden tools. Post hole
digger, metal post driver, pick axe, fence tool, small and large wire cutters, pipe cutter, vine lopper, pump sprayer, weed whacker.
- Bench grafted dormant bare root or green potted vines.
- Grow tubes
Grapevine varietal, clone and rootstock selection
Decide the varietal(s), clone and rootstock you want to plant and order vines from nursery. This should be done after the soil properties and potential site vigor is known. Vines need to be ordered at least 1 to 1½ years in advance of when you intend to plant. On smaller orders some nurseries will have some vines on hand, Custom orders of lesser available varieties need to be ordered well in advance. Likewise, decide what you want to plant - dormant bench grafts or green potted plants. Purchase only clean (disease and pest free) plant material from reputable sources.
- Varietal – warm or cool climate determines varietal suitability. For example, if you are you in the Carneros District think chardonnay, pinot noir, or Riesling or if you are in the Calistoga AVA think cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, or petite sirah.
- Clone – consider more than one. Clones can vary by yield (high vs. low), virus susceptibility, adaptability to environment, climate (warm vs. cool) and flavor.
- Rootstock – may need more than one. Selection should be based on resistance to soil pests; suitable for your soils texture, depth and fertility; compatible with soil chemistry; suitable for soil water availability, drainage and irrigation; vineyard design; and grape varietals growth and fruiting characteristics.
- Ordering – include extra vines. +/-2% of your vines will not survive and will require replacement in the first few years.
Identify, understand and quantify the time commitment required to plant your vineyard
Key step to ensure you know how much time you’ll be spending on your vineyard and know what must happen and when it must happen. Having a complete and accurate schedule is key to successful vineyard planting. Having patience and good health is equally important.
- Site evaluation – should start in prior winter or spring.
- Planning and research and more planning and research.
- Soil and water testing.
- Site preparation – occurs in the fall.
- Clear area to be planted
- Rip, disk and level area to be planted
- Mark, layout and stake vineyard
- Install drainage, if needed
- Install erosion control, if needed
- Install trellising
- Install deer/rabbit fencing, if needed.
- Pre planting – occurs late winter to early spring.
- Mow vineyard
- Strip spray rows
- Install irrigation system
- Planting – occurs in spring to early summer.
- Dormant bare root vines – plant late March through end of April.
- Green potted vines – plant May to June.
- Dig holes at least 18” to 20” deep.
- Tie vine to training stake.
- Post-Planting – sit back, relax and if all went as planned you now have a thriving vineyard that in a few years will produce your first harvest.
UC Master Gardeners of Napa County
UC California Garden Web – Growing Grapes in your Backyard
Napa County UCCE - Viticulture Home Page
Viticulture and Enology Resource Guide
UC Integrated Viticulture (This site is temporarily offline.)