Somewhat channeling the nature of the plants that populate them, vineyards have grown at a rather rapid pace over the last few years. As a matter of fact, the global vineyard surface area reached approximately 7.6 million hectares in 2016.
This doesn’t mean, however, that it’s acceptable to leave your vineyard unattended, or that it can survive well enough on its own without proper tending. Quite the opposite, actually: Vineyard appearances can be quite deceiving, and what you may perceive to be a thriving ecosystem of grape vines may in reality be a massive collective of creeping vegetation in its death throes.
Thus, it requires both a well-trained eye and a hands-on approach to viticulture to accurately assess the current health of a vineyard. Even a typical vineyard plot of average size can be quite a challenge to maintain. New technologies have been developed, of course, to make this task more manageable. One of these is spectral imagery for vineyard monitoring, which grants viticulturists a bird’s eye view of their property and allows them to anticipate potential issues on water, fertilizer, diseases, and pests weeks in advance. This technology also enables vineyard owners to make informed decisions on infrastructure adjustments, irrigation systems, and nutrition strategies.
However, as modern methods continue to emerge to meet the demands of the ever-expanding vineyard industry, the indicators of a healthy vineyard unsurprisingly remain the same. Here are four of the most important and easily observable signs that your vineyard is in the pink — or should we say, green — of health.
Interestingly, one of the first indicators that your vineyard is thriving is the presence of organisms that, simply put, aren’t the vines themselves. While your first impulse may be to make sure that your vineyard is bug-free, many critters actually helps to maintain your vineyard’s health. Think about it: If there were nothing else in your area for opportunistic predators and parasites to consume, they would certainly go for your vines. As such, encourage beneficial wildlife to thrive in your vineyard. These include birds of prey that eat vermin that prey upon the literal fruits of your labor, or smaller, insect-eating birds that subsist on the ravenous pests that bedevil your vines.
Remember that a healthy vineyard is the kind that allows for various species to stand in the way of each other’s dominance. Furthermore, refraining from using powerfully toxic sprays and herbicides can preserve the non-harmful insects that live in your vineyard (e.g. bees that pollinate your crops), as well as keep the soil in a condition ideal for growing your vines.
In this context, balance in your vineyard is a multifaceted characteristic influenced by a number of factors. One would be the ratio of leaves to clusters (the sweet spot would be somewhere around 15 leaves per cluster). Another takes a longer period of time to observe: the consistency of crop yields from year to year. Yet another indicator is uniform shoot growth, which contributes to overall growth consistency throughout the vineyard. What should not worry you, however, would be if there were a minimal percentage of your vines refusing to grow. In most cases, this is unavoidable; more often than not, these are the vines located in the spots in your vineyard that tend to get hit by pests the most. Better a small fraction of your crop than the entire vineyard, after all.
3) Leaf appearance
Identifying healthy shades of color on the leaves of your grape vines is yet another effective measure of vineyard health. Be on the lookout for grape leaves that are hand-sized, broad, smooth, and dark green in hue, as these are the characteristics that must be observable on the leaves throughout your vineyard. If you’re increasingly finding dry or discolored leaves in the area, that may be a symptom of an even bigger problem in your vineyard ecosystem. Light green leaves, for instance, may mean that your vines aren’t getting sufficient nutrition, or may be exposed to excessively high levels of a natural element or two (such as nitrogen). On the other hand, leaves with jagged edges could very well be showing you bite marks made by pests.
4) Vineyard cleanliness
Perhaps unsurprisingly, a well-tended vineyard is almost always a healthy one. Poor management is often the impetus of your vineyard’s destruction, and a negligent viticulturist is a vineyard’s most potent nemesis. Start by clearing your vineyard floor and keeping your vine row clean and organized, especially if your vineyard is less than 3 years old. For more mature vineyards, you can be less fussy about weed growth, unless they’ve reached your fruiting zone or touched your growing vine shoots. To avoid this, keep weed growth to just a few feet below your fruiting wire. Planting cover crop (such as annual grasses) works well for plots that are prone to soil erosion, but if you don’t have that problem, you can forgo the process.
Ultimately, the health of your vineyard will be gauged based on the quantity and quality of the fruit it bears. Make the most out of your harvest by carefully planning and scheduling it — midnight and early morning work best, when the air is generally cool, as this minimizes oxidation, volatile acidity, and spontaneous fermentation. Never waver in your commitment to maintain the health of your vineyard, and sooner or later, your efforts will bear the sweetest fruit.
Article Submitted By Community Writer