Who Knew Planting Vines Was So Complex?

9.27am, Thursday 24nd February, Yalumba Clocktower, Angaston, Eden Valley, The Barossa
Here’s a look behind the scenes at planting a new vineyard. It comes from James Freckleton, our vineyard manager down Limestone Coast way. We recently purchased new vineyard land. Half of it had great vines that we are excited to keep. The other half had a mix of vines that just weren’t working, so we are replanting it. You might think you just dig a hole, drop in a vine, give it a little water, and watch it grow. Ah, if only it were that easy.

The trick is to break up the soil, not mush it down.

The first thing you do is “rip” the soil in rows where you will plant. That’s a nasty sounding word, but if done right it helps the soil. We’ve had to wait quite a bit longer to do this because of the rain over the past year. The danger with ripping before the soil dries out is that you can damage the soil by cutting (like a butter knife) and smearing it rather than the ideal scenario of the soil crumbling and improving the profile.

The ripping is done specifically to a depth of 1 metre for a couple of reasons.

First, the soil doesn’t have a great structure so we need to break it up.

Second, two out of every three posts will be steel. The steel posts are 9 feet long and will go into the ground 3 feet. (Posts are usually 8 feet long and go in 2 feet.)  As steel posts are a lot thinner than traditional pine posts, they can lift with small undulations so the extra foot in the ground should ensure this won’t happen. The move to steel posts is a conscious decision to help the environment and move away from the waste that pine posts can create.

From here we will begin levelling the block and knocking in the posts. After this we will install the irrigation.

How we have come to choose our irrigation design is another story entirely, a bit of science combined with local knowledge of the soil and rock formations underneath. In short we drilled holes every 10m x 10m using a GPS to ascertain where the rock is throughout the block. We then generated a map that highlights the rock. That map correlates very closely to what other data – and what experience – told us about where the healthiest vines were. This gave us an excellent idea of how to configure our irrigation, reducing the variability that different soil depths and types can create. Basically we will have an irrigation design with one of the blocks being as small as 1 acre (this being in the middle of the block). We don’t think there are too many vineyards doing this type of work to this extent.

After the irrigation is installed the vineyard will be ready to plant around late August early September.

So much for just digging holes, but that extra effort will pay off in healthier vines, reduced water use and, best of all, good grapes for the winemaker.

Tony B

4 responses to “Who Knew Planting Vines Was So Complex?

  1. Great stuff Tony, thanks! Does this mean that we’ve figured out how to customize the irrigation needs within a vineyard so different blocks will get a get a different amount of water?

  2. Really interesting Tony and just shows that the Yalumba viticulturists are clearly on the ball.

  3. Diana, you put it into words better than I did. Such precise irrigation means we can use less water.

  4. Andrew, they are indeed on the ball. I learn heaps just listening to them.

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