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Wineries of El Dorado County

Planting a Vineyard



A desirable vineyard site should have adequate air drainage (free from trees and bushes), moderate degree of slope, and a deep, well‑drained soil. An adequate site with the proper soil conditions will produce large, vigorous vines which will return big yields. Shallow soil with poor drainage will produce weak vines. For this reason, vines set on poorly or slowly drained soils should be planted closer together in the rows in order to make use of the entire trellis area.

As soon as possible after the selection of a site for planting, it is advisable to consult your county agricultural agent about taking a soil sample and having a complete analysis made. The results of such an analysis can be used as a guide in preparing the soil before the roots are actually planted. Your county agricultural agent should also be consulted in interpreting the results of an analysis.

If there is any reason to believe, or the soil analysis shows, that the organic matter in the soil is low, every effort should be made to build this up by the addition and incorporation of such ma­terials as manure, cured hay or straw, wood chips, sawdust, etc. Nitrogen should be added to any of the other materials, with the exception of manure, at the time of the incorporation with the soil. Green cover crops, such as clover, turned under will con­tribute to the soil organic matter, but not to the extent that liberal applications of dry, ripe material such as straw or cured hay will. Because spring is the best time to plant vines in most parts of our country, the soil should be turned over thoroughly in the fall. This will allow time for the partial breakdown of any cover crop being turned under, which might seriously interfere with the planting operation if done in the spring. If practical to do so, some means of protection can be given the ground during the winter. A very thin layer of straw or old hay spread over the turned‑over ground for protection from erosion can be very easily disked into the soil in the spring without interfering with the planting operation. Even if it is not possible adequately to protect a vineyard area during the winter months, it is still better to turn the ground over in the fall. A large amount of unrotted organic matter in the soil will greatly lengthen the time involved in hand planting.


When selecting the varieties and vines for your home vineyard, keep the following in mind:

1. Yield and composition of the grapes under your soil and climatic conditions.

2. Inherent vigor of the vine.

3. Scion‑stock interrelationships. In many areas, desirable varie­ties must be grafted to soil‑adapted rootstock.

4. Susceptibility to disease.

5. The influence of environmental conditions‑rainfall, wind, fog, humidity, exposure, mean daily temperature, time of maturity.

6. The basic quality of the wine produced by the variety.

It is well, in making preliminary plans, to take a look through the vineyards of your region, noting the excellences and the faults. Seek the advice of the owners of good plantings. The United States Department of Agriculture, agricultural colleges, state ex­periment stations, and the county agent also give help that is almost indispensable in making selections of vines, as well as on the entire subject of grape growing. Still another source of in­formation and inspiration is the nurseryman's catalog. From these sources, plus the recommended species given earlier in this chapter, you should be able to select the best varieties for your vine­yard.

When purchasing the vines, select the best possible ones from a reliable nurseryman. (We have listed several in Appendix C.) 'The grapevines normally available to the grower for planting are sold under the following grades:

The grade 1‑X represents the very best grade of one‑year‑old vines grown during the past season. These are the "cream of the crop" and the number available each year is limited. Vines of this grade have consistently outgrown vines of the other grades and matured a year ahead of them. The premium price asked for 1‑X grade vines is well worth paying.

The grade 1‑1 represents the best average grade of one‑year‑old vines grown during the past season which have a good dense, sub­stantial root growth. The largest portion of the vines grown each year will be of this grade, providing growing conditions are op­timum. The 1‑1 grade vines are highly recommended for planting.

The grade 1‑2 represents the one‑year‑old vines with the top and root growth just below average. This grade of vine can be successfully used for planting, but will be slower in coming into bearing than the 1‑1 grade vines. If the 1‑X and 1‑1 grade vines are available, they should be purchased in preference to the 1‑2 grade vines.

The one‑year‑old vines which have made the poorest top and root growth are termed "culls." The abundance of culls in the nursery in any one year can depend on several factors. Poor wood used for cutting material will result in vines of cull grade. However, unsatisfactory top and root growth are not necessarily the result of this. A wet, cool growing season will result in a large number of culls due to insufficient root growth regardless of how good the cuttings were at the time of planting in the nursery. A very dry growing season will also cause the number of culls to be proportionately greater.

The best of the culls from the one‑year‑old vines and the grade 1‑2 vines not sold on the market are planted in the nursery the following spring and permitted to develop an additional season. When these are removed from the ground in the late fall and graded, the most vigorous vines are sold on the market as grade 2‑1. This grade of vine is satisfactory for planting providing that the root growth is dense, vigorous, and compact. In purchasing vines of this grade, the grower should not accept vines with a long, coarse root system, nor should he accept vines with a scanty root system. A general recommendation can be made to all growers, regardless of the variety and grade they are buying: be sure that the vines have a good, substantial, healthy, and sound root system.

It is not difficult to propagate your own rootings from cuttings. This can be done to expand your vineyard from your own vines or obtain stock from vines that particularly interest you. The simplest way to do this is to make cuttings with three buds from the varieties you want while the wines are dormant. The cuttings are bound in bundles, kept cool and moist, and dug in sand or sawdust until spring. Then they are trenched into the ground with only the top bud exposed. If cultivated with a hoe or trowel and kept in moist soil, the cutting will develop roots and foliage that can be handled as regular nursery stock in the fall.

A few precocious vines bear fruit two years after being set in the vineyard; most varieties bear at three years; and a few do not begin to bear until they have been planted four years. None, of course, come to full bearing until several years later. These ages are modified by soil, climate, and the care given the vines, though nature cannot be hurried greatly by rain.


The difficulties of planting a home vineyard are greatly exag­gerated. If the land is properly prepared, and the vines in good condition, planting is easily, safely, and quickly done. For in­stance, the slope of the land largely determines the direction of rows. On sloping land, rows should follow the drainage grade laid out by local soil conservation technicians. Such a planting plan is the best way to prevent or reduce erosion and to preserve the site for the long life of the vineyard. Rows at right angles to the slope (cross‑slope planting) are a better arrangement than rows parallel to the slope, and when the vineyard consists of both slope and level ground it is also best to run the rows at right angles to the slope.

Space needed by power equipment, if you plan to use it, largely governs the distance between rows in the vineyard. Rows spaced 7 or 8 feet apart allow ample room for any home vineyard power equipment‑tractors and sprayers‑now in use. It is suggested that vines be set 8 feet apart in the row. However, in experiments highest yields have been obtained at closer spacings, especially between rows. If low vigor is anticipated, vines should be planted closer than 8 feet apart in the row to get more plants in a given area and higher yields.

There are many ways to mark the field. If it is to be planted along a drainage grade, the curved rows are already marked. To get straight rows, you can drive a white stake at each corner of the proposed planting, then drive other stakes at 7‑ or 8‑foot intervals between the corner stakes, using a 7‑ or 8‑foot pole to measure. By keeping the end stakes in line with the corner stakes, the pole affords an easy way to space the rows. A pole the length of the vine spacing can be used in the row to space each vine as it is planted.

In setting grapevines, these essentials should be kept in mind:

1. All the roots that are alive and sound should be retained and kept moist and cool until covered by soil.

2. All these roots should he set 12 to 15 inches deep, be reason­ably spread, and be firmly packed with friable soil. The union of grafted vines should be several inches above the vineyard floor.

Within these conditions, a wide array of planting techniques is successful. Usually, planting is done by hand in a furrow. The vine spacing is measured by a pole of the correct length, or by a planting wire marked at appropriate distances and stretched along the furrow. It is inadvisable to put any fertilizer in the furrow or hole at planting time because of the danger of injuring the roots.

The top of the new vine should be pruned to the best single cane and this should be pruned to two or three buds. When the new shoots are no more than one inch long, all except the two topmost are broken off to promote growth in height. If the 1‑inch shoots cannot be broken off at the proper time, the best cane should be pruned to two buds at planting time. If fruit clusters develop, they should be removed in early summer.

A major cost in establishing a vineyard is the trellis. It should be constructed during the first growing season or the following spring; further delay will postpone the harvesting of profitable crops. All vertical trellises for commercial vineyards in New York, for example, are of the same general type: two or three wires, one above the other, stretched tightly on firmly set posts. Two wires are adequate for umbrella Kniffin and 4‑arm Kniffin, the most common systems, but three wires are necessary for some other training systems. For vine vigor that is at least average, the top wire of the trellis should be 51/2 to 6 feet above the ground to provide good exposure to sunlight and to facilitate insect and disease control. The bottom wire should be 2/2 to 3 feet above the ground. Comparisons of yields of vigorous vines on trellises 4 feet high with those 5 V2 feet high have shown signifi­cantly higher yield and higher soluble solids from vines on the higher trellises. These increases were noted only if the vines were sufficiently vigorous to cover the trellis completely with foliage in August.

Posts serve two functions. The intermediate or line posts pro­vide vertical support for the trellis wires. Although the end posts support the wire, too, their main purpose is to provide anchor points for tightening the wires.   (to be continued....)