What Vineyards Need
Garden tip from The Organic Backyard Vineyard by Tom Powers, Timber Press, paperback, $19.95
In this step-by-step guidebook, author and wine-growing expert Tom Powers walks the small grower through the entire process of growing grapes, with a month-by-month maintenance guide covering all regions of the U.S. and Canada.
California has the greatest abundance of different growing regions in North America for creating a vineyard. Basically, your vineyard will need at least eight hours of sun per day during the growing season. Here’s what else you need to know to keep your vineyard flourishing: Be sure there are no obstructions to the sun from houses, fences, garages, barns or other manmade structures, or from trees, shrubs, bushes or other vegetation near the vineyard.
Be sure there are no obstructions from within the vineyard such as rows spaced too closely together so that they shade one another. Do not space rows closer than five feet apart, except in special circumstances.
Know your azimuth! The direction the sun moves over your vineyard during the growing season will allow you to determine how to orient the rows in your vineyard. Throughout North America, south-facing slopes will receive more direct sunlight than any other exposures. The next best are west-facing slopes, which receive afternoon sun. East-facing slopes get more sun in the morning. One exception here is that in very high-temperature areas you may want to run rows east-west to prevent sun burning the grapes, particularly in the afternoon.
Do not plant a vineyard in a spot that is exposed to severe winds. Strong or steady winds can desiccate plants and cause soil erosion. If necessary, install windbreaks to moderate the effects of wind; this may be a tall hedge, a fence or trees. Windbreaks should not be solid, but allow some air to pass through.
Slopes are not necessarily bad for vineyards, but grapevines planted on a slope can be more difficult to care for, especially with mechanical equipment such as tractors or mowers. Also, vines planted lower down on the slope can be subject to colder air that naturally flows down into a hollow. You may also need to consider erosion control. If your property slopes steeply, get advice from a vineyard consultant before planting.
Water is an essential element for a successful vineyard, particularly in arid climates. If you have a back yard, chances are you have convenient access to water. One thing about vines is that they need much less water than traditional landscaping. If you are used to a suburban yard with a lawn and landscaping, you may be tempted to water the vineyard more than necessary. This is unwise, as too much water in the vineyard can cause as many problems as too little.