What is the difference between a winery and a power plant burning fossil fuel to generate electricity? Both release carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere – a major cause of global warming and climate change. The difference is one of timing, and scale. Wineries mainly discharge CO2 for a few months of the year during vintage, power plants continually. Power plants also release much, much more CO2 than wineries.
Environmentally-conscious wine consumers would be aghast to know that wineries release CO2 into the atmosphere during fermentation, since increasing atmospheric levels of CO2 and other “greenhouse” gases are known to be the cause of climate change.
In grape juice fermentation one molecule of sugar yields two molecules of ethanol and two molecules of CO2. This CO2 can be a hazard to winery workers, and so precautions are taken to vent it to the atmosphere. I call this treating the atmosphere like a sewer.
Wine makers may say that we have always done this, since wine was first made. Perhaps so, but times have changed. Climate scientists the world over are worried about global warming caused by increasing CO2 content of the atmosphere; they say we need to dramatically reduce emissions to avoid catastrophic climate events in the next 30 years. Even small contributors, like from wine fermentation, should cease.
Europeans are generally more environmentally aware than winemakers in the rest of the world. There are several companies in Europe producing equipment to capture fermentation CO2, clean and compress it for re-use or for re-sale. Such systems are commercially available now, for example from Enomet (Italy). Such systems are more common in breweries, and are even available for microbreweries (Earthly Labs, USA).
Château Smith Haut Lafitte of Bordeaux is using a process developed by the French firm Alcion Environnement to capture fermentation CO2 as bicarbonate of soda (sodium bicarbonate). The Wine Council of Bordeaux, the CIVB (Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux), is showcasing the initiative as a good example of how to lower CO2 emissions from fermentation.
The Wine Industry as a Carbon Polluter
It is common now for various industries to calculate their carbon footprint, using agreed protocols called Life Cycle Analyses. This has been done for the grape and wine sectors in several countries. Such a study in in Australia has shown that the wine industry is around 7% of the carbon emission of civil aviation. The grape and wine industry is not a large contributor in society but neither is it insignificant.
The grape and wine industry is especially sensitive to weather and climate, so it is in the industry’s best interest to do what it might to mitigate climate change. And yet, we hear little about this. For all the industry talk about “sustainability” one hears very little about carbon footprints.
LCA studies show that grapegrowing and winemaking are not major contributors to the carbon footprint of wine production and sale. The production of glass bottles and transport make up the great majority of wines carbon footprint.
How can the Grape and Wine Sector Minimize Carbon Pollution?
The standard 750ml glass bottle is the main villain for wines carbon footprint, being weighty, volume demanding and energetically expensive to manufacture and recycle and transport. A wander around supermarkets shows there are many other lighter packaging alternatives for liquids. Lower value wines are infrequently cellared nowadays, being generally purchased for immediate consumption, and comprise around 50% of wine sales in several markets. Expensive containers like glass bottles, designed for storage seem unnecessary, as well as being environmentally most undesirable. Perhaps 750 ml glass will be replaced by 1 L cardboard or paper cartons, as for many other food liquids.
The grape and wine sectors can take heart that some modern research, machinery and process developments are available to minimise carbon footprints. For vineyards, these could involve use of biofuels, electric tractors, improved irrigation efficiency, and reductions in agricultural chemical use. Solar and wind energy are being employed by some businesses.
Vineyards and wineries are generally slower than other agricultural industries in considering waste products as biomass fuel for heat and electricity generation. Electricity production remains largely dependent on fossil fuels, and winery demands for heating/cooling and lighting are major contributors to the carbon footprint. European studies suggest that pomace, stalks and prunings as renewable energy sources can contribute significantly as electricity alternatives. Prunings can be baled in the vineyard, easily collected and air-dried, then chipped before use as a fuel.
An important recent development has been in pyrolysis units to convert biomass into electricity. Large municipal facilities have problems of biomass supply, because of low biomass value for cartage over longer distances. Newer developments of small, portable units can be located at the source of biomass as for the winery; they can produce syn-gas, wood vinegar, biochar and bio-oil. Bio-oil and syn-gas can be used to produce electricity, and wood vinegar when dilute is a natural plant growth stimulant, and when concentrated is a herbicide. Bio char is very stable. It can be used as a soil amendment, and is a means of sequestering carbon.
Some carbon accounting methods deliberately exclude CO2 emissions from fermentation. The “justification” for this is to label such emissions as “biogenic”; that is, this CO2 source does not need to be accounted for since it is balanced by the annual growth cycle of the vine in capturing CO2 by photosynthesis, the so-called “short term” carbon cycle. One wonders why there is the mandatory exclusion of fermentation CO2 in some LCA models. Is it to do with wanting to avoid legislative interest in such emissions? There are laws governing disposal of waste water, why not fermentation CO2? By way of comparison, the OIV (2017) carbon calculator allows for the optional inclusion of fermentation CO2.
There appears no valid reason why wineries should continue to treat the atmosphere as a sewer for CO2. The means are available to avoid this, admittedly at a cost.
I conclude with a question: How long before an environmentally sensitive wine consumer is able to purchase an alternate package of wine bearing the label “During the fermentation of this wine no carbon dioxide was released into the atmosphere, or perhaps using the attached logo?
Dr Richard Smart is an experienced viticultural scientist and consultant. He can be contacted using email@example.com, and is available for internet consulting, in your office or in the field.
In the universe of viticulture, the letters “E.T.” do not stand for “extraterrestrial.” Vineyard consultants and growers use the acronym to describe the sum of evaporation of water from the soil surface plus transpiration (water loss) from the leaves of grapevines. Where there are deficiencies in natural water supply, vineyard irrigation is critical. In some grape growing regions, though, it is also controversial. As a result, vineyards are forced to strike a balance between water usage, costs to dispense it, and investment in new technologies aimed at optimizing water management.
There is a vast array of science that goes into the process of vineyard irrigation. Grape growers often turn to those who have studied the field and know precisely how to choose the right method of distributing extra water to grapevines to produce the best grapes.
Not many know more about the science of vineyard irrigation than Dr. Lowell Zelinski of Pasa Robles, California-based Precision Ag Consulting. His three decades of experience, along with a doctorate in soil science from the University of California-Davis, make him a trusted authority in vineyard management, viticulture production consulting, soil fertility and irrigation management throughout California’s Central Coast and San Joaquin Valley.
As a plant physiologist with detailed knowledge of the relationship between soil, water and plants, Dr. Zelinski helps vineyard growers reach their production goals with one-on-one consulting, which includes deploying a combination of traditional methods and cutting-edge technology. Since most of his clients operate vineyards in a region where water supply is at a premium, there is not enough water flow for sprinklers, not to mention a topography that defeats any chance for successful furrows. Hence, drip irrigation is the choice.
Dr. Zelinksi points to monitoring as an important element of any vineyard irrigation system. “Most have or will have soil moisture monitoring stations. They also have weather stations, and, as needed, we use a leaf porometer.”
Therein lies part of the science—the “E.T.” factor—so critical to vineyard irrigation. A porometer measures water stress in a grapevine, specifically, its leaves. The device gauges how much water the grapevine leaf is taking in through the small pores on its surface. If there is too much water evaporation from the leaves, they will wither. When leaves on a grapevine show signs of stress, the rate of evaporation and the ability for the plant to cool itself drops. The leaf porometer allows grape growers and their consultants to keep tabs on this process.
Another crucial factor in vineyard irrigation, Dr. Zelinski says, is monitoring vineyard soil conditions.
“Soil moisture monitoring is important because it gives an objective measure of how much water is in the soil at different depths,” he says. “Additionally, with the correct soil probes, the strength with which the soil is holding onto the water can be determined. This indicates how hard the vines need to work to extract water from the soil. Monitoring at different depths also indicates whether or not the soil is being over-watered or under-watered.”
While the application of extra water in the cultivation of wine grapes takes on more than one form, the goal of controlling water stress is universal. To strike this balance, the grapevine receives adequate water during the budding and flowering stages. Irrigation is then scaled back during the ripening stage, thus allowing the vine to channel most of its water into developing grape clusters, instead of growing more leaves. In the drier regions of the United States, vineyard irrigation is indispensable, and drip irrigation is the method of choice.
Some vineyards are fortunate enough to be in a climate where water stress is rare. Such is the case for Black Star Farms, whose vineyards are located in northern Michigan, near the resort community of Traverse City.
“We really only irrigate in the early stages of a vineyard’s life, when young plants need plenty of water to get a healthy start,” says Lee Lutes, winemaker and managing partner at Black Star Farms. “We often see a little drought in early to mid-summer, and with our well-drained soils, it’s the time those young vines need the help. We only use drip irrigation as a means of monitoring how much is dispensed to each plant and to specifically focus it. After year three, the system is typically never used again. We are fortunate that we get more than enough water during the spring and fall, so vines in our region rarely show signs of water stress.”
On the opposite end of the 45th parallel is Washington’s Two Mountain Winery, a name inspired by the views of Mount Adams and Mount Rainier, seen from one of the winery’s multiple vineyards in Yakima Valley. Brothers Matthew and Patrick Rawn own and operate the winery. Patrick Rawn is the general manager and spearheads vineyard operations. He says Two Mountain Winery has used a mix of irrigation methods.
“We use drip on the vast majority of our acreage. We have a few blocks with micro-sprinklers that were installed to allow for planted cover crops to help achieve crop objectives. In those blocks, we also have drip systems to irrigate the vines,” says Rawn. “We have had mixed success with micro-sprinkler systems. The early ones installed were poorly designed and did not achieve the goals. The newer ones achieve the goals but at the cost of more water usage. We have found drip to be the most efficient as well as most effective in reaching our quality objectives. Choices are based on site characteristics, water source and intention of the block when planted.”
Rawn adds that it is important to know what is happening in real-time through consistent monitoring, especially when it comes to checking moisture levels in the soil. Two Mountain Winery checks soil conditions through a five-minute communication cycle using soil moisture monitoring probes.
“Knowing the actual soil moisture relative helps us achieve quality objectives and reduce irrigation applications,” Rawn says. “Additionally, we can more efficiently focus our irrigation labor budget on areas the sensors communicate are out of our parameters. I have a much clearer understanding of our soil variations and how to more precisely deploy irrigation resources since we first deployed the sensors.”
Rawn says Two Mountain Winery uses a system supplied by the Wilbur Ellis Company, a century-old global leader in agriculture technology, which has some 30 vineyards on its client roster throughout California, Oregon and Washington state. Its most popular products are its electronic probes and telemetry, both of which are run through the Wilbur Ellis Probe Schedule dashboard. The company attributes the popularity of the Probe Schedule to its ease of use, noting that vineyards can, at a glance, make water management decisions, quickly and easily. The Probe Scheduler has an open API to share data easily.
“The information is easy to digest and read and has good ETC modeling and water budgeting tools,” Rawn says. “We purchased [it] as a service, which we prefer. We are not responsible for maintaining the equipment or software upgrades. We rarely experience downtime, but not spending time troubleshooting sensor problems when they arise is a big plus.”
On a smaller scale, there are other companies with innovations on the market touting significant results, such as California’s Deep Root Irrigation, which invented an independently tested, patented technology designed to curb water waste and maximize plant growth. Company owner Jeremiah Ciudaj tells The Grapevine Magazine that the DRI system is groundbreaking, in part, because it delivers water and nutrients directly to the plant root.
“This simple, affordable device connects to an existing drip emitter on one end, while the other end of it inserts vertically into the ground for water and fertilizer delivery directly to the root zone,” he says.
Globally, the viticulture industry is using new technologies to improve vineyard irrigation in regions all over the world, particularly in areas where climate and soil conditions are not optimal. At the same time, vineyards are mindful of water conservation, if for no other reason than to hold down costs and, in the case of drier climates, avoid over-consumption. The trend toward drip systems, combined with technology designed to provide instant data on water management in vineyards, helps to contribute toward containing energy costs, as well as preserving water, thus keeping vineyards ever mindful of the invaluable natural resource that is water.
Many vineyards focus their pest control efforts on small common insects, but there are much larger animals that put grapevines in danger as well. Rodents, birds, deer and other larger mammals feed and trample on grapevines, putting production at risk and compromising the quality of wine grapes.
Types of Wildlife in Vineyards
Depending on what region of the country your vineyard is located, you may be faced with many different animals that love to wander into your grapevines. Some of the most common wildlife species that negatively impact vineyards are deer, rodents, birds and raccoons. Birds, in particular, are notorious for pecking through fruit and damaging it so that it cannot be used for winemaking.
“Many different avian species can damage vineyards, but the most aggressive ones are flocking birds like starlings and blackbirds,” said Cory Gellerstedt, Co-president of Nixalite of America. “Even one bird peck to a grape can leave detrimental pathogens that can alter the taste of the fruit.” Based in East Moline, Illinois, Nixalite specializes in pest bird and wildlife control products, including bird netting, bird spikes and deer fencing.
“In larger vineyards, the loss of crops due to bird damage could be as high as 10-30%, resulting in millions of dollars’ worth of lost revenue, and in smaller vineyards, that percentage could be much higher, sometimes resulting in a total loss,” said Vahe’Alaverdian, master falconer and founder of Falcon Force.
Even if wildlife pests don’t eat the fruit on your vines, they may tear through leaves or damage shoots so that they no longer support the plant.
However, not all types of animals are a nuisance. Both sheep and geese provide weed control, llamas can be used to clear debris from vineyard rows, and armadillos are known to eat harmful insects. Meanwhile, dogs, outdoor cats and even bobcats scare away rodents and other small pests and protect sheep from predators.
Chemical Control Methods for Wildlife
Various chemical methods are available today to assist vineyards in controlling wildlife. However, it is vital when using chemical repellants that they effectively deter wildlife without harming vines. Many vineyard operators also want to be as humane as possible in their wildlife control methods and limit their use of poisonous chemical compounds.
Brett Miller, Northwest Territory Sales Manager for the Wilsonville, Oregon-based Bird Control Group, told The Grapevine Magazine that chemical repellents come in two modalities: primary and secondary. Primary repellents are irritants that produce a foul odor or taste to encourage birds to try a different food source, while secondary repellents invoke a physiological response in the birds.
Chemicals repellants are sprayed either directly onto fruit or into the air around the vineyard; however, as a former vineyard manager and winemaker, Miller said to be careful when spraying any chemical directly onto the grapes. “Spraying anything on the fruit or in the vineyard will affect the resulting wine in some way. I would never spray something on the fruit that is a physical deterrent to birds because it could easily affect the quality of the wine, whether directly by an off-taste, or indirectly by inhibiting yeast fermentation.”
Jon Stone of Avian Enterprises in Sylvan Lake, Michigan, told The Grapevine Magazine that Avian Control Bird Repellent has proven to be the most effective chemical control method on the market for controlling birds in vineyards. The main reason for this, Stone said, besides it’s effectiveness, is that it does not change the taste or color of the wine.
“There have been no reports of unexpected changes in any wine made with grapes that have been treated with Avian Control,” said Stone. “The active and inert ingredients in Avian Control do not penetrate the skin of the fruit. Avian Control will not translocate into the treated crop. Translocation is the tendency of a compound to move through the tissues of a plant. This effect is particularly troubling when repellents translocate from the outer skin of the fruit through the skin and into the fruit body. When this occurs, a distinct change in taste can be noticed. Due to its unique formulation, Avian Control remains on the surface… and does not translocate into the plant or its fruit, preserving the natural taste of the crop. This is an important difference between Avian Control and other bird repellent products currently available.”
Stone said that Avian Control repels only birds and has no effect on humans or domestic animals. The active ingredient, methyl anthranilate, is widely used in foods designed for human consumption. The FDA has classified all of the ingredients in the Avian Control formula to be “Generally Regarded as Safe”.
The same cannot be said for rodent control. Allen Hurlburt of H&M Gopher Control in Tulelake, California, said that all chemical rodent controls, such as strychnine baits, aluminum phosphide (phostoxin), and anti-coagulants, are problematic because their effects are not limited to the targeted rodent.
“Phostoxin, especially, is very dangerous for the operator to handle,” Hurlburt said. “Regulations vary from state to state, but materials can be difficult to obtain and usually require permits from county agricultural departments.”
Natural Ways to Control Wildlife in Vineyards
Most modern wildlife control revolves around natural, organic and non-chemical ways to keep animals away from delicate grapevines. Odor repellants can be sprayed around vines or mounted on the trellis, sound repellants startle deer, and fences and barriers keep out larger pests.
Grow tubes and mesh vinyl screens are commonly used in vineyards for wildlife pest control, as well as bird netting to provide an effective barrier between avian pests and plants. Some vineyards allow hunting to control local deer populations. Meanwhile, some small vineyards experiment with natural remedies and alternatives to chemicals, such as egg-based sprays and garlic-based juices.
Netting and Barriers
Gellerstedt of Nixalite of America, Inc. told The Grapevine Magazine that his company offers a wide variety of bird and wildlife control products for vineyards, including bird netting, fencing, repellents, traps, sound and visual deterrents. He said that vineyard bird netting is very effective, although it is the most labor-intensive and costly.
“Our most popular net is constructed out of soft polyethylene knitted three-quarter-inch mesh,” Gellerstedt said. “The netting is simply draped over the vines to provide protection during the growing season and then removed just prior to harvest. With proper care, quality netting can be used for many seasons.”
For deer and wildlife fencing, Gellerstedt recommends installing a fence that is eight feet or taller to prevent animals from jumping over it.
Other solutions that Nixalite offers are acoustic devices, such as propane cannons and hailing devices for short-term and occasional use. Meanwhile, visual deterrents, such as scarecrows and reflective ribbons, are simple and affordable but usually only provide temporary results.
“I believe bird and wildlife exclusion with netting, barriers and fencing is the most effective technique, although it is not always feasible because of labor and cost,” Gellerstedt said. “Many successful bird and wildlife management programs use a combination of products and techniques to achieve effective results.”
Lasers can also be useful in deterring birds. Miller of Bird Control Group said that his company manufactures and sells a class 3B laser and that its automated AVIX Mark II laser is the most popular with vineyard managers.
“The laser is an expanded green beam that is seen as a physical object by the birds. With its constant movement, the birds don’t know how to categorize the beam, making the area look uninhabitable and pushing them elsewhere,” Miller said. “One of our automated lasers will cover 20 to 40 acres of vineyard, giving each vineyard 24-hour protection and reducing damage from birds by 70-95%.”
“Birds are inherently visual,” Miller said. “They have a very high eye-size to head-size ratio, and most use each eye independently. Their eyes are their main defensive and offensive mechanism, and Bird Control Group’s laser technology leverages their keen eyesight to give farmers the advantage.”
Miller told The Grapevine Magazine that as a vineyard manager, he found the best bird management solution to be Bird Control Group’s laser system used in conjunction with propane bird cannons and mylar tape. Cannons and tape alert birds, while the laser creates an environment that pushes them off the field.
Another way to intimidate and scare off nuisance birds is falconry-based bird abatement. Falcons and hawks are natural predators, and often their presence alone is enough to deter prey species. Falcon Force’s Alaverdian told The Grapevine Magazine how falconry-based bird abatement is quiet, discrete, organic, eco-friendly and sustainable.
“Our team of expert falconers releases one of our falcons upon the first sighting of birds in the morning, and the falcons pursue the prey with the intention of catching them. Nothing scares a prey species more than the fear of falling victim to a predators’ meal,” Alaverdian said. “However, it is not our intention to let the falcon catch the prey, so as the flocks of starlings disburse out of sight, the falconer calls the bird back in, and the falcon is rewarded for his pursuit. Each flight may last between ten minutes to an hour, depending on the time of day and temperatures. Once a bird is called in, a fresh falcon is prepared to patrol the next incoming flock. Each bird may be flown two to six times a day.”
“Falcon Force is the marriage of a very deep passion for the ancient art of falconry coupled with the practical use of raptors for bird abatement in a modern-day landscape,” Alaverdian said.
When it comes to rodents, Hurlburt of H&M Gopher Control said that non-chemical wildlife control methods like owl boxes have not proven to be very effective. However, he said that the Pressurized Exhaust Rodent Control system has proven to be very effective in reducing populations of burrowing rodents from 65-100% in the first treatment.
“University of California field trials, as well as farmer reports, have proven that the PERC system works very well in burrowing rodent control programs,” Hurlburt said. “Safety for the operator, bystanders and non-targeted animals has made the PERC system the first choice for burrowing rodent control.”
H&M Gopher Control’s most popular model for rodent control among vineyards under 100 acres is the company’s 206 unit. “Because vineyards can only treat one row at a time, multiple 206 units rather than the larger machines can be a more efficient use of capital and labor.”
When Wildlife Control is Most Important
The best time to start thinking about controlling wildlife is right after planting, and, based upon the local wildlife activity in the area, a plan for the whole season should be put in place. Different animal pests tend to strike at various times during the year. Closely monitoring vines throughout the growing season for signs of a wildlife presence or damage will help you form and adapt your pest control strategy accordingly.
Miller of Bird Control Group said that bird control efforts start at veraison, the point in berry ripening when the vine begins focusing on seed development and cell expansion rather than cell division.
“Veraison occurs 45 to 65 days after bloom, depending on climate and variety, when the sugar level is around 12º Brix,” Miller said. “Once the berries turn color, the birds will test the fruit, and like humans, they truly only like to eat the berries when there is optimal sugar.”
However, Miller also said that bird behavior is dependent on more than just the wine grape crop.
“Vineyard birds are eating summer bugs, other fruit crops and seed crops,” Miller said. “Wine grapes are often grown in very agriculturally-rich locations, so the birds are there to eat it all. Each vintage is different, and the longer the winemakers let their fruit hang, the more they will have to battle our avian friends.”
“Grape-growers who have the most success using Avian Control Bird Repellent start spraying their grapes directly before the scout birds are even in the area,” said Stone of Avian Enterprises. “If the grower can start spraying before the scout birds inform the rest of the flock of the buffet below, the grower has a very good chance of keeping most, if not all, the birds away from their grapes. This process always happens before veraison. Most growers will then continue to spray their grapes once per week at a rate of anywhere from 32 to 42 ounces until they harvest.”
Falcon Force is typically contracted to service a vineyard from veraison to harvest, with one of its team members and a fleet of four to eight falcons at the vineyard for eight to 12 hours a day. Depending on when the service starts, there may already be crop damage, which makes it harder to change bird feeding habits. Therefore, Alaverdian recommends starting falconry service while the fruit is still green and before nuisance birds establish a feeding routine, so his team can keep them away and the grapes safe.
“The one piece of advice I cannot over-stress is not to wait till the damage is well in progress and then call us,” said Alaverdian. “Our staff is limited, and we are often contracted months in advance, yet we are always willing to consult and offer flight demonstrations provided we have enough notice. We share an immense amount of information on our website and are always willing to share our experience and expertise with our wine-grape growing friends.”
Stone of Avian Enterprises agrees that bird repellency in vineyards requires early planning. “We tell our customers that the easiest and most effective way to keep their grapes free from birds is not to wait until there is a flock of birds attacking their grapes before they decide to start spraying Avian Control Bird Repellent. Prevention works!”
Unlike tiny insect pests, animals are more noticeable due to their physical presence and feces left behind. Yet, they can also be elusive and scamper away quickly or burrow underground, remaining undetected until significant damage is done.
“Gophers and field mice can be a major problem in vineyards. Gophers, especially, like grapevine roots and can severely damage new vineyards,” said Hurlburt of H&M Gopher Control. “Treatment is not a one-time operation. It needs to be on-going year-round to keep rodent populations below a financial crop-damaging situation.”
“The best time for rodent control is after the foliage has fallen and the operator has a better visual view of the ground in and around the vines. Gophers are active year-round through late fall, and winter treatment is optimum. Spring treatment after pruning works well, but it is also in the breeding season for gophers, so the females are not usually building new mounds when raising young.”
Developing Your Vineyard’s Wildlife Control Strategy
Gellerstedt of Nixalite stressed the need to be proactive and start early by putting a wildlife management plan in place.
“Protect the fruit before birds have an opportunity to destroy it,” Gellerstedt said. “Timing is critical when using netting, repellents and other deterrents. Sometimes it only takes a few days for a bird infestation to damage a crop.”
Miller of Bird Control Group advises vineyard managers to plan and take an integrated approach to wildlife control rather than waiting until it’s nearly harvest time, and birds are actively eating the fruit.
“Foraging birds are hard to move, and there isn’t a bird deterrent device in the world that can eradicate 100% of feeding birds once they have tasted the sweet taste of 20º Brix fruit,” Miller said. “Take the integrated approach and don’t rely on one tool. Just like the rest of your integrated pest management practices, you must use redundancies and the synergistic effects of multiple deterrents.”
Pests and plant diseases are inevitable if you’re in the business of growing any type of crop, but it’s how you handle those nuisances that really makes a difference in your production and crop quality. Fortunately, there are various methods available to vineyards for controlling common pests, such as insects, mites and parasites, as well as diseases specific to your region.
Common Vineyard Pests and Diseases
Depending on your vineyard’s location, you might experience many different types of pests throughout the year. Some of the most common pests that affect vineyards include grape berry moths, grape leafhoppers, Japanese beetles and rose chafers. Various types of mites, such as bud, rust and spider mites, often feed upon wine grapes, as well as mealy bugs and cutworms too.
Each of these pests affects grapevines differently but can cause significant damage if they aren’t identified and stopped at the earliest signs of feeding. In severe cases, pests can cause fruit to become so damaged that it cannot be used for winemaking. Malformed leaves, small leaves, less vine growth and reduced berry size are common after pest damage. Meanwhile, you might notice fewer grape bunches or leaves that are speckled and yellow after a pest infestation.
As with the pests themselves, diseases also vary widely depending on vineyard region and location within that region. For example, Pierce’s disease is especially problematic in California’s north coastal region. Powdery mildew and downy mildew are common pest-related grapevine diseases across the country, as well as black rot, botrytis bunch rot and phomopsis cane and leaf spot.
BioSafe Systems, LLC’s technical sales representative Taylor Vadon and technical marketing manager Patrick Clark told The Grapevine Magazine that powdery mildew and botrytis are some of the most common fungal diseases seen in vineyards today. They explained how powdery mildew is a devastating disease because this fungal pathogen can cause reduced vine growth, yield and fruit quality.
“The fungus can survive winter as chasmothecia, known as ‘resting spores,’ on the grapevine and nearby host sites, as well as mycelia infecting tissue inside dormant buds known as bud perennation,” they said. “Additionally, this fungus has been shown to have developed resistance to some commonly used fungicides.”
Control Methods for Vineyard Insects
Modern vineyards have a wide selection of chemical means at their disposal to control pests and keep plants as healthy as possible. For fungicides, it often takes a mixture of a couple different products for broad-spectrum control of multiple diseases. Yet it is often too late to wait until a fungus appears to apply fungicide. Insecticides in the form of cover sprays are popular among vineyards that like the convenience of an air blast sprayer and option to mix fungicides in the tank when desired.
Ryann Greenleaf of A1 Mist Sprayers, an application equipment company based in Ponca, Nebraska, told The Grapevine how these mist sprayers are great for coverage efficiency because they deposit the droplets of whatever product is applied to the underside of the leaf. Meanwhile, most other machines strictly apply product to the top of the foliage.
“A1 Mist Sprayers are also a more cost-effective piece of equipment and can be used for fungicides, insecticides and foliar fertilization applications.” Greenleaf said.
“The 3PT Terminator is our most recommended product for a vineyard because of the applied coverage of a product, it is the best ‘bang for your buck’ and it has additional attachments that can be purchased that have been designed specifically with a vineyard situation in mind, such as the 2-Way Orchard/Vineyard Volute and the 11-Nozzle Vertical Volute,” Greenleaf said. “Our next recommended product is the Boss mist sprayer. This is a smaller, more compact and price efficient model that is ideal for smaller operations and also has a Vertical Volute option.”
Control Methods for Vineyard Diseases
To control vineyard diseases, Dr. Melissa J. O’Neal, the product development manager for the Western United States for Marrone Bio Innovations (MBI), recommends using preventative sprays to strengthen the plant’s immunity.
“Integrated pest management (IPM) programs combine chemical, biological, cultural and other control methods to manage grapevine pests,” Dr. O’Neal said. “All products in the MBI portfolio can be rotated or combined with chemicals. The latter approach is the foundation of MBI’s BioUnite approach, which provides growers with IPM programs that harness the power of biology with the performance of chemistry, resulting in a more efficient food production system that is affordable, sustainable, safe and easy to use.”
“Regalia Biofungicide is used early for disease prevention and overall plant health and through the season for continued disease control,” said Dr. O’Neal. “Stargus Biofungicide is an advanced SAR and ISR biofungicide targeting key diseases of grapes. Increases in yield have been observed when either Regalia or Stargus are included in grape disease management programs.”
Dr. O’Neal said, “Grandevo contains several active compounds that repel, stop feeding, reduce reproduction and induce mortality to prevent the development of damaging populations of sucking and chewing insects, flies and mites. Venerate XC is a broad-spectrum, in-season insecticide with a similarly broad label. Finally, Haven is an abiotic stress manager that helps crops dissipate excess heat and moderates solar radiation, preventing heat and sun damage while increasing photosynthesis, as well as marketable yield.”
To best combat fungal diseases and manage development of fungicide resistance, Vadon and Clark of BioSafe Systems recommend preventative actions, such as dormant applications and continued measures throughout the growing season to protect plant tissue by reducing spores and inhibiting fungal development.
“The use of fungicidal products, like OxiDate 5.0 and PerCarb, play a key role in reducing disease pressure by eliminating fungus and their spores,” said Vadon and Clark. “Sound cultural practices interwoven with quality fungicide applications that utilize rotating modes of action, plus low to no resistance potential, are very important to sound vineyard disease management practices that protect the health of the vine, improve quality of the grapes and advance the sustainability of the vineyard.”
Vadon and Clark shared that recent results from a UC Davis study last season, showcased the effective use of OxiDate 5.0 in a BioSafe Systems program for grape powdery mildew, demonstrating leading significant performance for control of the disease amongst multiple industry standard programs.
Meanwhile, Semios is a scalable, data analytics platform that uses precision agriculture technology to help predict, identify and prevent pest and disease pressure. With company offices in California, Washington and British Columbia, Canada, Semios aims to help growers worry less through automated and remotely controlled climate, insect and disease monitoring treatment.
“We believe that data, direct from the vineyard, combined with dynamic modelling enables the most efficient, effective and targeted approach to managing grapevine diseases, like powdery mildew,” James Watson, the director of sales and marketing for Semios, told The Grapevine Magazine.
“When the appropriate action is taken with optimal timing, growers can improve results, while additionally mitigating the possibility of resistance due to overuse of control products,” Watson said. “Tools like Semios can be a powerful ally when growers are seeking improved economies in management practices and their customers are pressuring them to adopt more sustainable practices.”
Semios’ primary product available for vineyard management is its industry-leading grape powdery mildew model, which Watson said provides growers and consultants an index value with up to per-acre granularity that is computed inside the vine canopy. He said that this stands out from common commercial models that rely on climate data gleaned from a handful of weather data sources outside of the vineyard.
“Due to this unique, granular evaluation, growers and PCAs get a modelled sense of the probable location of disease risk hotspots in the vineyard at any time,” Watson said about Semios’ advantageous capabilities. “This can save critical time when scouting and assessing disease risk, while simultaneously informing a management strategy for optimal response and effectiveness of treatment.”
Timing and Other Considerations
As a general rule, many vineyards apply pest control methods when shoots are an average of five inches in length. After almost all of the florets have bloomed, consider applying a post-bloom spray. It is also a wise idea to apply pesticides before rainy periods so they have an opportunity to dry before the rain comes. In fact, weather conditions have a big impact on not only control applications, but also how many pests and diseases affect a vineyard during the year.
“Pest control is really dependent on what part of the world you live in and when the pests from your region are more active,” said Greenleaf of A1 Mist Sprayers. “However, using an A1 Mist Sprayer allows you to use the unit anytime of the year that the pests are being a nuisance and should be used year-round to not only eradicate a pest problem, but also help in the prevention of pests, including powdery mildew, downy mildew, black rot and fruit rot.”
Vadon and Clark of BioSafe Systems pointed out that many fungal disease pathogens are in a vineyard throughout the year, which means that vineyard managers should always stay vigilant with their management practices. It is essential to monitor vines for diseases leading up to and at bud break but also to be prudent heading into bloom until bunch closure.
“During the fruit set and early fruit development, vines are actively photosynthesizing and directing nutrients to growing points and developing clusters,” said Vadon and Clark. “These specific growth stages, coupled with potentially humid conditions and mild temperatures, can produce the ideal breeding ground for fungal diseases, such as powdery mildew, downy mildew and botrytis. During this period, it is vital to manage fungal pathogens and their spores with proven products, especially leading into bunch closure to ensure a healthy cluster.”
Watson of Semios said that the ideal timing and frequency of pest and disease control measures vary considerably depending on a vineyard’s region, historical pressure, pathogen and variety.
“Semios is ‘always on’ and provides the advantage of feeding proven disease tracking models, developed by trusted university researchers, with the most accurate and representative data,” Watson said. “Field data is updated every ten minutes, ensuring the most accurate insights when most needed. Timely identification and location of the risk via heat maps and automatic mobile alerts helps speed scouting and treatment decisions.”
Safety When Using Pesticides and Fungicides
Pesticide and fungicide use does not come without risks, so it is always best to accurately identify grapevine intruders before applying a new product. Use a minimal amount of a product to gauge effectiveness because more is not necessarily better when it comes to pest and disease control.
Read product labels carefully, store products in their original containers until they are empty and stay away from sprayed areas until they are dry. Also, check local regulations for pesticide and fungicide use to ensure you are in legal compliance before applying a new product.
Dr. O’Neal of Marrone Bio Innovations advises vineyard managers and staff to always read and follow label instructions, wear the proper PPE and consider using only products with a favorable safety profile.
“MBI portfolio offerings represent resistance management tools in a grower’s IPM program,” said Dr. O’Neal. “In addition, all products in the MBI portfolio offer growers sustainable modes of action which combat resistance development. MBI products have a favorable safety profile, with four-hour re-entry intervals and zero-day pre-harvest intervals. In addition, MBI products are reduced risk, are tolerance exempt, and all of them except Haven are OMRI-certified.”
Tips and Advice About Pest and Disease Control
Experts who work in with pests and diseases every day can offer practical advice to save you time, money and hassles in vineyard management.
“In general, predictive disease models were developed through research using micro-climate weather data collected in the vineyard,” said Watson of Semios. “Unfortunately, most current disease monitoring solutions don’t accurately measure in-canopy conditions, resulting in reduced accuracy and effectiveness of the model itself. It is important when using technology to assess disease risk to ensure that the source of the data that drives the calculations originates in the canopy of the vineyard itself, which can then speed assessment and treatment for improved results.”
Dr. O’Neal from Marrone Bio Innovations advises vineyard managers to always keep in mind the holistic mindset.
“Pest and disease management are continual tasks that extend beyond the growing season,” she said. “These tasks require year-round planning, program revision and continual research of the newly emerging management tools available. In the present agricultural landscape, managers will likely need to utilize a combination of biological, chemical, cultural and other management tactics.”
Vadon and Clark from BioSafe Systems said that the most critical advice for vineyard managers regarding disease management would be to stress the importance that they must be proactive and not reactive. There is some truth to the old saying that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” because a robust and comprehensive preventative management program, in conjunction with good cultural practices, will mitigate many disease issues seen during crucial times of the growing season.
“Products, like Oxidate 5.0 and PerCarb, are perfect additions to a strong preventative management program, because they are cost-effective with broad-spectrum activity, have no known resistance and can be applied tank-mixed or stand-alone,” said Vadon and Clark. “Using these two products throughout the growing season will eradicate fungal spores and mycelium on contact, reducing disease pressure and thus preventing disease outbreaks and the buildup resistance.
“The best advice we can give is to start a prevention plan as soon as possible and to stay on top of that problem with a regular schedule of applications,” said Greenleaf of A1 Mist Sprayers. “It is very important to do your research on the pest, the chemical or natural solution for that pest and the equipment to apply it with.”
There was a television commercial a number of years ago where the owner of a famous donut shop was so frazzled going back and forth getting the donuts made that he ran into a clone of himself coming in the door as he was leaving out the door to go to work. With all of the growing, harvesting, grape crushing, fermenting, ageing and packaging – how many of you have felt the same way? There certainly is a lot to do and manage in the winemaking business, isn’t there?
With all you have to think about, how many of you have given much attention to managing your driver safety exposures? You’re not alone. Driver risks are a significant loss exposure for wineries – one that is often overlooked. Vehicle crashes unfortunately are on the rise – and jury verdicts for those found at fault are reaching amounts never before considered. Are you doing anything to manage these often unnoticed risks for your winery? Or are you merely telling your employees to “Be safe out there!” as you hand them keys to your vehicles?
There are a number of things you can do and best practices you can use to lessen your exposure to this potentially serious risk. How many of these strategies are you using?
1. Do you demonstrate management support for safe driving?
2. Do you have a driver selection process?
3. Do you evaluate your drivers?
4. Do you have written driver safety policies and procedures?
5. Do you have driver orientation and training programs?
6. Do your drivers know what to do if they are in an accident?
7. Do you have inspection and maintenance procedures defined?
Yes, there can be quite a few things to help manage your driver exposures, but in the long run they can help you avoid needless injuries and losses.
As an old saying goes – “if it’s not important to you, it won’t be important to your employees”. There are a number of ways that you can demonstrate the importance of driver safety to you and your winery:
• Do you have a clearly written driver safety policy with standard driver operating procedure?
Has it been reviewed by legal counsel for conformance to accepted legal procedures?
a. Is it consistently enforced?
oIs it distributed to all employees?
b. Do all employees sign an acknowledgement
that they will follow all these rules?
c. Do you hold all drivers accountable for their
driving and any accidents sustained?
• Is someone assigned to oversee driver safety?
• Do you routinely include driver safety topics at employee meetings?
Selecting Your Drivers
Having a meaningful driver selection process is an important part of managing your winery’s driving exposure. By having a good process in place, you can help avoid future losses from accidents and vehicle abuse. Have you included these practices in your selection process?
• Use of defined criteria (in writing) to select your drivers?
• Do these criteria include:
a. Background checks
b. Drug screening
c. A review of past work records
d. A 3-year review of each person’s MVR (Motor Vehicle Record) to rule out any disqualifying offenses
• Do you stipulate that failure to participate in MVR screening could result in denial of employment, loss of employment or loss of driving privileges?
Even though most of your employees can probably drive, determining which candidates are acceptable is important in managing your driving risks. Do you:
• Verify their drivers’ license is valid and current in their state of residence.
• Hire only experienced drivers with a minimum of 2 years driving experience
• Check references provided
• Know if candidates have the ability to understand both oral and written instructions?
• Disqualify drivers with three (3) or more violations in 3 years
• Disqualify drivers with two (2) or more preventable accidents* in 3 years.
• Require compliance with a drug & alcohol testing program.
• Disqualify any driver convicted of any alcohol or drug related offences.
• Maintain an up to date list of authorized drivers
• Have a procedure to assure your drivers maintain an acceptable MVR during their employment.
Written Policies and Procedures
In today’s business environment, you can serve your winery well by documenting how you expect your business to be run and how you expect your drivers to operate. Does your documentation include?
• A written driver safety program with:
a. Requirements for 100% seat belt use?
b. Rules prohibiting distracted driving?
c. Reporting rules for any moving violations?
d. Rules on permitted use of winery vehicles?
• Is your program written in a clear and concise manner?
• Are these rules readily available and easy to obtain in an organized, neat and easy to use format?
• Do you assure that all drivers are thoroughly familiar with the rules and is their knowledge tested? Do drivers sign an acknowledgement confirming they will follow all these rules?
• Are your rules vigorously enforced?
Orientation and Training
Driver training presents some great opportunities for your winery to better manage your driving exposures.
• In order to be effective, training should:
a. Be recurring.
b. Use a variety of methods to communicate your information.
• Daily 5-minute safety talks.
• Paycheck stuffers
• Safety meetings
• Training videos
a. Routinely reinforce safe driving practices.
b. Be both informal (short talks at the beginning of a shift) and more formal (classroom) in nature.
c. Select topics and organize content ahead of time.
d. Test employees on what was covered. Results should be documented and in each drivers file.
e. Follow a checklist to assure all topics are consistently covered.
f. Include defensive driving..
g. Include what is considered distracted driving.
h. Require mandatory attendance and document each driver’s file.
i. Utilize driver trainers along with monitored probationary periods for all new hires.
Do your drivers know what to do (and what not to do) in the event of an accident? An improper statement immediately following an accident could make your winery liable. It is important that you establish procedures that inform your drivers how to properly respond in the event of an accident. You may want to consider obtaining legal advice to document how your drivers are expected to respond immediately after an accident. Drivers should know:
• How to respond to any immediate concerns
• When they should notify someone
• Who they should call
• Who they should talk with
• What they should say (or not say)
• What information they should gather
• Are there any additional steps they should take
Consider having a checklist for your drivers to guide them through the proper steps expected of them in the event of an incident. By having all the proper procedures (and training) in place before an accident, your winery and your drivers are more apt to respond properly to an accident and not react in a way that could have a detrimental impact on your winery.
Inspections and Maintenance
“What gets inspected gets dealt with” is a management saying often stated and one that may serve your winery well. Properly inspected and maintained vehicles have a much greater chance of operating correctly than vehicles that are neglected. It is important for you to have confidence in your equipment. Steps your winery can take in this regard include:
• Training drivers how to do a thorough inspection.
• Making sure all vehicles are Inspected (in writing) prior to use.
• Having repairs and maintenance issues remedied as promptly as needed.
• Having all physical damage reported to supervisory management.
• In the event of a breakdown or weather related condition, assuring your drivers know who to notify for assistance.
• Having all repairs completed by licensed shop/mechanic.
• Having a licensed mechanic/shop inspect each vehicle on an annual basis.
• Having all vehicles receive periodic scheduled maintenance; document this in each vehicle file
• Keeping maintenance files for each vehicle for a minimum of two years.
• Completing preventative maintenance within vehicle guidelines and the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Having well-maintained vehicles will give your winery the confidence that your vehicles are as they should be and not the cause of an incident due to a mechanical failure.
Implementing these kind of strategies effectively for your winery will get you off to a great start in managing your driving exposures. As a manager, you have a responsibility to your employees, your customers, and the general public to know who is driving and that they meet the driver guidelines you’ve established. You have a responsibility to implement sound business procedures. train your drivers so they know and can follow your procedures safely, and assure that the vehicles you have on the road are safe and well maintained.
There may be other components that will also help in managing your winery’s driving exposures. You should also consider talking to your insurance agent to discuss your specific circumstances and what else you might do to lessen your driving risks.
* A preventable accident is any traffic accident which results in property damage and/or personal injury, regardless of who is injured, what property was damaged, to what extent, or where it occurred, in which the driver in question failed to exercise every reasonable precaution or action to avoid the accident. Driving to avoid preventable accidents is defensive driving. The fact that the driver was not charged with a traffic violation by law enforcement is not part of this definition. (Derived from the National Safety Council DDC-4 Guide)
** The National Safety Council defines defensive driving as “driving to save lives, money and time, in spite of the conditions around you and the actions of others.”
The information provided in this article is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be considered as all encompassing, or suitable for all situations, conditions, and environments. Please contact your attorney if you have any questions.
You probably know that I worked and developed several grapevine disease detection labs in the past. Now I am on the other side and am able to choose the lab that is able to fir with the needs of the specific project I am working on and evaluate their practices.
Presently there are many laboratories that provide testing services dedicated to the detection and diagnosis of plant pathogens. It can be confusing to the grower, vineyard manager or nursery staff to decide which laboratory to choose. My recommendation is to work with a plant pathologist who can provide guidelines towards the best option. At the time, there is no accreditation for grapevine diagnostic laboratories in USA. Therefore, each laboratory is free to develop their own testing and sampling methodologies.
This article will describe the different methods used for grapevine pathogen diagnostics and discuss the advantages and pitfalls of each of them. Ultimately, I will attempt to convince the reader that the standardization of the diagnostic methods used for the detection as well accreditation of testing laboratories should be adopted by the grapevine industry
Different Testing Scenarios
In an ideal world, the nursery or grower is interested in learning that their propagation and planting material is free of important pathogens. But unfortunately, many times, the grower may suspect disease in the vineyard due to specific symptoms. A knowledgeable plant pathologist will be able to help on statistical sampling as well as what type of laboratory is best suited for each case. Regardless of the purpose for testing, below I will describe the most common methods available for the detection of important bacterial, fungal, and viral infecting pathogens.
Fungal and bacterial pathogens can be cultured and isolated in specialized media. However, microorganisms may compete among each other. Generally, the microbe(s) with the most competitive growth capacity will overshadow slow microbes that grow slower, making the diagnosis difficult or even sometimes impossible. In some cases, the diagnosis will be biased and a laboratory may not be able to report the disease causal agent unless sophisticated molecular methods are used (see NGS/HTS section). However, in the case of the diagnosis of a declining vine in the vineyard or nursery, the identification of the fungal family (i.e., Diatripaceae species are associated with cankers) or bacterial genus (Agrobacterium species causes crown gall) may be sufficient to decipher the cause of the problem. Phytoplasmas (a special type of bacteria that lack cell walls) and viruses cannot be cultured and their identification must be carried out using molecular and serological methods.
ELISA, PCR, and RT-PCR
ELISA is the abbreviation for “enzyme-linked immuno-sorbent assay, and consists of sticking the virus coat protein on a plastic test plate that was coated with specific antibodies. The detection can be seen when there is a change of color in the wells of the test plate (colorimetric enzymatic reaction). ELISA detection is limited to the amount of virus present in the sample. PCR, is the abbreviation for polymerase chain reaction. The technique allows the multiplication of viral nucleic acid from the initial titer (concentration) of pathogen present in the vine. The process is specific, and utilizes copies of small portions of the pathogen’s genome to start the copying process. The amplification is repeated many times, with each copy making more copies, so after the completion of an appropriate number of PCR cycles, more than a billion copies of the nucleic acid is produced. For RNA viruses the detection is done using RT-PCR (RT = a copy of the viral RNA via reverse transcription) before PCR can start. PCR and RT-PCR are sensitive techniques used for the detection of grapevine pathogens.
The sensitivity and specificity of the detection of pathogens can be influenced by the season as well as the part of the vine from which samples are collected. While ELISA is generally thought to be less sensitive than RT-PCR, the ELISA has a broader spectrum of detection but is available only for grapevine viruses and can detect a range of virus variants. On the other hand, PCR can be too specific, and miss the detection of isolates of the same virus even when slightly different. Using both ELISA and RT-PCR consecutively is recommended to reliably detect grapevine leafroll viruses, as each method is designed to detect different portions of a virus.
Single Use Strips for “in house” Detection
A molecular single use strip test has been developed for the detection of Grapevine red botch virus (GRBV) that can be used for in-field testing. Although, this test is marketed for use in the field, for reliable results, the assays should be conducted by experienced technicians in a clean laboratory. If a lay person were to attempt to run the assay, they the instructions must be carefully followed, as the steps are complicated and require measuring small quantities of material (microliters of components). In my opinion, it is worthwhile to have an experienced laboratory run these tests. It is expected that laboratory personnel are trained to keep the sample and other materials free of contamination. In the past, a kit was available for the “in house” detection of Grapevine leafroll associated -3 (GLRaV-3). However, many different leafroll viruses can cause leafroll disease and obtaining a negative result for GLRaV-3 would have given the false impression that the vineyard block or sample in question was not infected.
Next Generation or High Throughput Sequencing
The next generation sequencing (NGS) also known as high throughput sequencing (HTS) is a powerful method that allows the laboratory to detect any organism present in a sample.
When NGS or HTS is applied, the complete sequence of the genetic material or microbiome present in the tested plant material or soil can be obtained. Generally, during the sample preparation, the pathogens specific sequences are enriched to increase the sensitivity of the assay (for example the lab may just amplify fungal sequences). The data obtained is analyzed with sophisticated software that is able to list the bacteria, fungi, virus, or other organisms (beneficial or pathogenic) present in the sample. The method can provide relative quantitative data, generally expressed in percentages, of each organism found. The NGS has been widely used in research and has allowed the discovery and characterization of important viruses such as Grapevine red blotch associated virus. Presently, this technique is being applied for the commercial testing of plant and soil samples to detect bacterial and fungal microorganisms. A plant pathologist with expertise in bacterial, fungal, and viral taxonomy is able to associate the presence of the microorganisms found with disease symptoms (or potential disease development).
Need for Accreditation of Laboratories
As mentioned earlier, at the moment, there is no accreditation system for laboratories performing grapevine diagnostic testing. The closer we have gotten to these efforts is a ring test run by the Lodi Wine Grape Commission. A ring test consists in providing laboratories with “blind” samples of known infection status to determine if the laboratory’s in-house procedures are able to detect the correct infection status in each sample. In the past, while affiliated to various laboratories I was a participant of such ring tests.
In the fall of 2018, the Lodi Wine Commission ran a ring test to evaluate the different labs that offer testing for the diagnostics of grapevine viruses. The laboratories received a large number of homogenized samples that were infected with various grapevine viruses. The results of each laboratory were shared privately with the participant laboratories. To the best of my knowledge no accreditation was granted. While it is a great first step to carry out a ring test with the laboratories, future tests could be improved by providing the laboratory with portions of grapevines rather than a homogenized powder. While it is understanding that homogenized samples may avoid the possibility of uneven distribution of viruses in the grapevine material, the capacity of the laboratory to process whole samples is important. The integrity of the samples would determine if the laboratory is proficient on processing each sample without cross contamination or degrading the potential viruses present.
The standardization of the diagnostic methods for the detection of grapevine pathogens should be a goal for the viticulture industry in the near future. The accreditation of laboratories is of upmost importance for evaluating the reliability of testing labs. Standardization of sampling and testing is common in other fields of food and plant pathogens. It is puzzling that the grapevine industry has not adopted a system given the importance of this perennial crop. My philosophy is that a vineyard must be planted with the healthiest available material as vineyards must live a long healthy life. If a vineyard is planted with diseased material, the life expectancy is reduced (not to mention the possibility of perpetration and spread of pathogens in the vineyard and neighboring vineyards)
It is encouraging to know that new and more sensitive pathogen detection methods are being developed and applied for the diagnostic of grapevine pathogens. The next generation sequencing or HTS is becoming more affordable and available for the detection at the species level of microorganisms in plants and soil. It is expected that in the near future, these methods will be applied on new planting material and help develop healthy vineyards.
Judit Monis, Ph.D. provides specialized services to help growers, vineyard managers, and nursery personnel avoid the propagation and transmission of disease caused by bacteria, fungi, and viruses in their vineyard blocks. Judit (based in California) is fluent in Spanish and is available to consult in all wine grape growing regions of the word. Please visit juditmonis.com for information or contact firstname.lastname@example.org request a consulting session at your vineyard.
Preparing for harvest is critical and happens during all the larger part of a year. Let’s start thinking about harvest now. It’s not a one-day process just before the first load of fruit arrives on the crush pad. We will go over the planning process of how to be most prepared and confident when the fruit of the harvest starts to arrive. Part of the plan may include taking a vacation so read on!
Obtain a calendar: This will be the most useful tool for your planning from bottling, to fixing equipment and ordering yeast/chemicals etc. I prefer a large erasable calendar so one can plan out 4 to 6 months at a minimum. Have cellar workers use this for their projected time off also. It is a great communication resource for everyone!
Note taking during harvest: This is the first step and the key step for subsequent success in future harvest(s) to come. Make notes of any production pitfalls, machinery issues, fruit handling upgrade wishes, squealing bearings, worn belts etc. Keep visiting this list and make sure to plug budgetary items in at the appropriate time.
When do you start? Start preparing for the harvest planning exercise by optimistically looking at the vineyard and expected fruit or juices for the harvest seven or eight months in advance. Plan, order and negotiate any cooperage or tanks space adjustments early on to fit upcoming predicted production.
Plan tank capacity: With initial vineyard tonnage projections in hand start to forecast empty tank capacity and cooperage. Plug into this projection tanks you expect to have bottled by harvest. Is there enough predicted empty tank capacity available to allow all the fruit projected to fit into the cellar? Is there an overrun plan? Would large tanker trailers be available if needed for excesses? Think through as many options as possible. If you calculate you need more volume capacity– get that on order.
Place orders for tanks and cooperage: Take time near January of each year to place orders for stainless steel tanks and barrels. In many cases for stainless steel you can order custom made tanks for the same price as stock. This way – you get exactly the features you want in your tank and you can specify quality. Treat cooperage the same way. Talk to your barrel supplier(s) and express an (“optimistic”) order should agricultural expectations go as planned. Most barrel suppliers will work with you to be flexible (within reason) to help you plan your tank capacity and this helps them plan their production work load.
Make a bottling schedule: Make sure to plan exactly what you need to bottle to integrate properly with the sales goals and to empty the amount of tank space needed. This will need to be coordinated with the warehouse personnel and taking into consideration warehouse space. Stick with the bottling schedule since it is integral to your projected bulk wine volume tank space requirements needs. Speak with sales to understand their expected sales rates and understand if any varietals will be placed on “special” accelerating predicted sales rates.
Visit the machinery in the winter months: Start reviewing worn out belts, replace and repack bearings that are showing wear. Motors; bearings; chains etc. Order spare parts of anything that seems worn or in need of repair soon. Create a plan. Upgrade the machinery and adapt to making the crush process easier. Look at pomace removal systems and explore options. Do these repairs and reviews while you have the time to take action. (The same theory applies during harvest – work on your bottling line!)
Review the cellar journal/log: Looking at entries in the cellar log will often jar the memories of items that needed refinement of the harvest prior. This will help in the planning process of what may need attention for next harvest also.
In the Spring: Start to count picking lugs, bins, shears and gondolas. Review vineyard data projections for tonnage and get a grasp on how that tonnage will be transported to the winery. Inspect wagons, tires and gondolas. This review in the spring will allow enough time to make adjustments and to plan for these upcoming events. Make plans for harvest help and contact any interns you plan to have in place
Early Summer: Have a refined crop estimate submitted by each grower. With more solid fruit estimates in hand refine your tank and vessel needs for the winery. Start thinking about yeast and stylistic production goals. How will these be achieved? Start taking further action to fix and refine the machinery for the crush pad. This is a time of year better suited for this work outdoors and allows for errors to be fixed with ample time.
Mid-Summer: Have a review done of your chilling system. Is it operating properly? Will there be enough cooling tonnage for the increased capacity? Do you care to relocate any tanks? Will refrigeration/glycol lines need to cut for adding additional tanks? Will this impact your bottling schedule?
Two months before harvest: Place an order for yeast, enzymes, nutrients, ML cultures, tank cleaning chemicals, citric acid, soda ash, etc. Have comfortable shipping dates discussed with your supplier to avoid rush fees. (Keep in mind some companies offer free shipping in July)
• Start to address clutter in the winery and on the crush pad. Contact the appropriate people to solve any situations that exist. Having the proper elbow room at the start of crush is crucial for mobility during crush.
• Fix and / or replace any leaky transfer hoses. Order needed gaskets; clamps etc to make sure the hoses can be repaired and assembled without leakage.
• Clean all your hoses a few times before harvest.
• Order all fresh lab chemicals to get you through the entire crush season. Date them as they arrive. Clean house: Out with old… in with new.
• Develop and refine any written protocols (Lees filter press operation, tank cleaning, press cleaning, crusher cleaning etc) for upcoming harvest helpers or interns. If interns will be from another country try to have your protocols translated or have interns do this at the end of one of their previous seasons.
• Physically rehearse step by step the harvest crush pad process on the crush pad. Have everyone understand the grape/must/product flow that will be anticipated for each style of wine.
• Discuss possible two shift scenarios if you envision this may be something you are considering. Most people are receptive to this option if they can mentally prepare. Less success is achieved if the idea is new and forced.
Start a list of odd jobs: I have often found this to be very helpful when fruit is delayed arriving at the crush pad and harvest helpers are apt to stand and wait. Painting the outside fence, sprucing up the winery entrance or repairing picnic tables for common area can be some examples. Landscaping. All wineries have project lists that are usually very long and this can help cross those off the list. This is a great point score with owners and keeps employees busy.
Once all the bottling is finished and some breathing room potentially exists start to work on and repair the bottling line during harvest.
Take a vacation: Once you have successfully completed the bottling and all your harvest chemicals are either in house or confirmed on their way…. take a vacation and make sure your other staff take a vacation. This is the dangling carrot that keeps us all challenged and ultimately relaxed going into a harvest.
Low stress: Start your harvest in a low stress relaxed environment while taking notes on future needs and improvements so each year will become smoother and smoother. Your low stress start will allow you to handle the complexities of harvest with confidence, courage and excellent judgment. Your winemaking will shine as a result of your planning.
In short: Start taking notes this upcoming harvest and plan your machinery maintenance very early. Use a calendar to help keep this project moving along, bottle up all the wine projected and be ready for the expected tonnage to arrive and perhaps…a few extras.
Spring pruning is one of the most vital applications vineyard managers can control, so it’s always beneficial to cross-check your processes with an expert or two. Depending on the air temperatures in your region, you might be edging into budburst (also referred to as budbreak) right now, and believe most of your pruning is complete.
However, according to Fritz Westover, owner of Westover Vineyard Advising and Virtual Viticulture Academy in Texas, there are always reasons to examine the results of pruning not only at the start of the season but also throughout, to understand what worked and what should be remedied. Watch helpful instructional pruning videos from Fritz Westover.
“I do a lot of post-pruning site visits with growers, and it’s always informative to learn what you did wrong after you did it!” Westover joked. “The number one mistake I correct is the retention of small wood, followed by the retention of too many buds per vine. Both can result in an inefficient canopy, poor fruit quality and overall less balanced vines. The good news is that it’s easier to take buds off than to put them back on.”
Spur and Cane Pruning: Reasons for Each
“Ideally, the decision to spur or cane prune should be made before designing and planting a vineyard,” Westover said. “However, most varieties can adapt to either a cane- or spur-pruned system. Also, I’ve found both vertical shoot positions or high-fruiting wire training systems can adapt to spur or cane pruning.”
“A lot of our decisions regarding spur vs. cane pruning is based upon varietal,” Kim Myers told The Grapevine Magazine. Myers , co-owner, Laurel Gray Vineyards and Yadkin Valley Wine Company, along with her husband, Ben, co-stewards land in North Carolina that’s been in the family for 10 generations. Their 10.5-acre vineyard, Laurel Gray, features estate French vinifera vines such as Chardonnay, Viognier, Pinot Gris, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Their winery, Yadkin Valley Wine Company, produces award-winning selections, including a signature Bourdeaux blend, Scarlet Mountain; Estate Barrel Fermented Chardonnay; and Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Viognier.
“Spur pruning is used for varieties that show high fruitfulness on basal buds. For example, Cabernet Sauvignon works very well on spur pruning—until it’s time to renew the cordons. When renewing, we cane prune in order to establish a new healthy cordon,” she said. “Viognier produced best when cane-pruned because this technique allows more light on to the cordon and into the canopy.”
“Generally, spur pruning, once established, is less labor-intensive. It’s easy to do and easy to teach, especially for vines that are trained on fences or trellises,” Myers added.
Westover provided further recommendations. “In general, sites that require in-row vine spacing wider than four feet are better adapted to a cordon/spur-pruning system to best utilize the space in the fruiting zone, as laying canes longer than 18-24 inches can result in poor shoot size uniformity in many varieties,” he said.
“Cane pruning, on the other hand, results in a vine that has a lower number of pruning wounds than a vine that is spur-pruned. Therefore, there might be less opportunity for certain fungal diseases that infect pruning wounds and cause grapevine trunk diseases,” he said. “Additionally, there’s less old wood on a cane-pruned vine and less potential area for disease spores to overwinter, such as phomopsis or other GTD-associated pathogens. Some varieties are also known to be more fruitful when cane-pruned, such as Nebbiolo or Malvasia Bianca.”
“Cane pruning requires a high level of expertise, is more expensive and takes more time,” Myers added. “You have to make very educated choices about each and every vine. However, cane pruning has many advantages: frost protection, even production and even spacing of growing shoots in the spring.”
Similar to what Myers does at Laurel Gray, Westover incorporates both methods for individual vines on some of his clients’ properties. “This isn’t typical, but can help increase the yield on vines that have high vigor but low yields due to small cluster size or shading of lower bud position of the spurs,” he said. “Careful consideration should be made as to where to use this practice, as the extra buds can cause crowding in the canopy, which can increase disease pressure in wet, humid climates.”
Another mitigating factor for following a pruning method is the rumbling advance of mechanized or “no-touch” vineyard operations. The University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Department released data in 2019 from a 53-acre Merlot research vineyard in the San Joaquin Valley—where more than half of all California grapes are grown— that indicated mechanical pruning “reduced labor costs by 90%, resulted in increased grape yields and had no impact on the grape berry’s anthocyanin content.”
Kaan Kurtural, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology; and George Zhuang, UCCE viticulture advisor in Fresno County; conduct conference panels and webinars about the process, which they say is the future of pruning for operations of 150–300 acres.
So keep in mind as you strategize production growth and processes, “one of the greatest disadvantages to cane pruning in our future shift to mechanization is that it cannot be easily machine-pruned,” Westover said.
Questions of the Advisor
Since Westover consults for dozens of vineyards east of the Rocky Mountains through his onsite visits and victual academy, we asked him to provide answers to the top three questions he gets regarding pruning. They are:
1. When should I start pruning?
A: Depending on vineyard size, time and labor, if a grower in the Northern Hemisphere uses pre-pruning or partial pruning, I encourage them to start in January and move to final pruning at a time that allows them to complete it prior to budburst. So, for example, a small grower may be able to prune in a week and can start the process 10-to-14 days before the historical average budburst date in their area. Larger vineyards obviously need more time and may be pruning steady until budburst.
2. Do I need to protect pruning wounds from GTDs?
A: Fungal diseases associated with GTDs are primarily spread by splashing rain. Therefore, it’s important not to prune when it’s raining or when rain is predicted within the next few days—I advise my growers to wait until after the rain. In some cases, registered fungicides can be applied to protect pruning wounds from infection, such as Topsin M—check your state registry status. If pruning wounds have healed over, or if no rain is predicted, then protective sprays can be avoided. There are also products available now that can be painted over the top of larger pruning wounds to create a physical boundary against pruning wounds, such as VitiSeal.
3. What if I don’t finish before budburst?
A: Ideally, all final pruning will be completed a week or so before budburst. When shoots begin to grow, they first emerge on the most distal part of a cane, which is referred to as “apical dominance” of shoots across a cane. Some growers intentionally hold off final pruning until the onset of budburst on distal bud positions, as this can delay the budburst of the lower buds retained as spurs near the cordon. This small delay in budburst can result in the avoidance of a late spring freeze by 7-to-14 days, depending on site and variety. However, if a grower doesn’t complete final pruning before the shoots on the distal nodes reach greater than two inches in length, the lower bud positions can lose fruitfulness. The bottom line: pruning needs to be completed by bud swell—and not later.
Education, Sterilization, and Clean-Up Ensures Successful Results
Many vineyard managers hire crews with pruning experience, while some do a crash course each season with trusted volunteers. In either scenario, Westover said, you need to ensure people do what your vines require.
“Cut-and-paste pruning strategies won’t address the needs of each block. A pruning crew is only as good as its instructor, and it’s often necessary to have a lot of supervision the first few days of pruning—and again any time the pruning strategy changes between vineyard blocks,” he said. “Educate your crew and stick with them until the end. I share videos with my clients from my website, and on a rainy day, the crew watches those. Repetition of key pruning concepts is a great way to empower your crew to make decisions on their own and quickly.”
One example he provides is that vigorous vines with large cane diameters can retain spurs with two-count buds, whereas smaller vines or vines with some small canes may need to have several spur positions pruned back to a one-count bud. “The motto I use in my academy is ‘no wimpy wood’—which seems to resonate with growers and results in less wimpy shoots that produce inferior fruit,” Westover of Virtual Viticulture Academy told The Grapevine Magazine.
“Weather can also cause a shift in a standard pruning protocol. For instance, in a year with high primary bud death due to freeze conditions, a grower needs to first assess the percentage of bud death in the vineyard, and then adjust the final number of count buds per vine to compensate,” he said. “This isn’t easy to do, but it can certainly help keep a vineyard in business through a tough season if done properly—and some live buds remain!”
Myers’ pruning team includes two people on staff for a 40–plus workweek who are in the vineyard daily. One of her primary takeaway tips is proper sterilization. “Clean pruning tools at the end of each row, and especially when changing varietals.”
Westover agreed. “This is an area of research that we have little information on at this time, but sterilizing shears after each row and—at a minimum—between blocks is a good practice. Solutions of 10% bleach or 70% isopropyl alcohol are inexpensive options to spray on shears,” he said.
So is the work done once buds break? Not necessarily. “Stay proactive on your vineyard management programs from pruning until frost to avoid uncontrollable problems,” said Myers of Laurel Gray Vineyards. “Watch for split vines that may have happened due to extreme cold weather when the sap was rising. Remove all cut wood from the vineyard floor and spray while still dormant with lime sulfur to kill any disease spores that overwintered in mummified fruit, dead wood or old leaves.”
Also remember that not removing enough canes “will cause over-production with a too-dense canopy, under-ripe fruit and conditions for disease,” she said. “These conditions require more labor through the growing season because the vineyard manager is constantly trying to combat these issues through summer hedging, spraying and leaf removal.”
By: Nathan Chambers, Gaynor Strachan Chun and Susan DeMatei
Research shows that your email success can be significantly improved if you enact a campaign list segmentation strategy – MailChimp reports that segmented emails can increase open rates by +15% and click through rates by up to 100%.
Segmenting your email list allows you to deliver more personalized and relevant content to specific groups of customers. Not segmenting your list results in higher customer attrition. On average, over half of those who subscribe to email lists end up throwing the email in the trash when it hits their inbox.
For your customer, there are many reasons why they will be more likely to open an email from a brand that delivers content that is more relevant to them in a timely manner. One of the most important reasons is it shows them you understand their needs and wants. In other words, it delivers a more personalized experience.
For you and your brand, the value of email list segmentation is quite simple – increased ROI. Segmenting your email list drives increases in loyalty and lifetime value (LTV).
Let’s look at it from your customer’s perspective. They were at the winery, they filled out a customer information card, or made a purchase and shipped bottles home; they either asked or were aware they’d be added to the mailing list and are hoping for special offers, events, or other news. This is a transaction of trust. As a payback for their trust in you, customers expect to get something of value back, on a reliable basis, and not so often that it adds to their in-box clutter. If the only thing you offer them is random, or generic, you violate that trust.
But where do you start? Here are 7 effective ways to segment your email list and leverage other data to increase your email ROI.
#1: Demographics: The simplest way to segment your list is by demographics. Age, gender, job title, native language, etc. These traits, individually or combined, can help you understand what products or offers they are more likely to be interested in.
#2: Survey Results: People like being asked what they want and need. Rather than overloading your opt-in function, use your list to conduct surveys. This way you can create a more complete picture of your target audience. Ask about interests, needs, why they chose your brand.
You can then use your survey results to segment by interest, sending content that is relevant to the different interest groups. Maybe you have a group of customers who love recipes and like to cook. Target them with an email about a new wine and include a food and wine pairing recipe element. This will greatly increase your rate of engagement with this customer segment. The more they engage, the more likely they are to keep an eye out for further emails. Repeating that engagement until it becomes a regular habit.
#3: Sending Frequency: Nobody likes their email box to be overloaded, even if the emails they are receiving might be relevant to them. Understanding the optimal cadence for your emails can be difficult. Use your email engagement data to understand the best frequency. The ideal frequency may also vary by segment.
#4: Geolocation Segmentation: The easiest and quickest way to segment your database is through geography. For instance, target people in a certain area for events, or shipping offers based on weather. When they joined the mailing list, they felt a connection. Your customers expect accountability, integrity, and accuracy. Geolocation segmentation offers many benefits beyond email campaigns. “Taking the winery on the road” brings the winery and the wines to those who may not make it back to your tasting room. Your winery can develop relationships with retailers or have Wine Club members host a tasting at their home in a key market.
#5: Page Views: Where do your website visitors spend most of their time? By analyzing your page views, you can better understand what your visitors are looking for and even segment content to them. Are they looking for the hours your tasting room is open? The send them tasting room information. Are they looking at the gift set page? Send them a vertical package offer. One of the easiest segmented communications in this group is to target a resend to people who opened an email and went to the landing page of the product for sale but didn’t buy. These retargeted communications might be just the reminder they needed to complete the purchase. Whatever messaging you choose to play with, when you tie your email segmentation to website visits, these insights to create more relevant content for your emails.
#6: Purchase Cycle: Understanding the purchase and repurchase cycle of different groups of customers is invaluable. It allows you to build customer behavior profiles and each profile type will respond to different email approaches. If a customer has just signed up for your mailing list, they will want an introduction to who you are and what you offer. A case or library magnum offer is not for this group who are just getting to know you. What you want to do with customers early in their life cycle with you is reduce barrier to trial, so give them single or double bottle offers with your best-selling wines. Save the big purchases for when they become loyal members (and then segment on their past purchases – see below). With the purchase cycle in mind, you can tailor email content and timing based on customer behavior, increasing your likelihood of conversion.
#7 Past Purchases: By analyzing what your different groups of customers are buying, you build an understanding of what products interest them and what products don’t. This allows you to create target segments for each product type and only send information or offers about products you know will interest them, increasingly your likelihood of securing a sale. Additionally, it signals to the customer that you care about their preferences and are not sending them emails about products they would never buy.
For instance, imagine you decide to send a special offer email on a new vintage of a particular wine. If a group of your loyal repeat customers have never purchased that varietal, why would they care? New members will appreciate the email and may make a purchase because they’re trying new things, but most consumers show you through purchase action what they’re interested in. Send them too many emails that don’t apply and they’ll ignore it or, worse yet, mark it as spam or unsubscribe.
Implementing These Strategies
Don’t try to tackle all these segmentation strategies at once. It’s more valuable to master one of these strategies before developing the next one than it is to fumble with implementing all of them at once. Baby-steps count. Start with one idea with a goal to try out a new segmentation each month. Then you’ll see what your database responds positively to, and you can play more in the areas that resonate. The single most important thing is to at least try segmentation in all your campaigns. Doing so will undoubtedly increase your success rates and metrics for your ongoing email marketing.
Susan DeMatei, Nathan Chambers and Gaynor Strachan Chun work for WineGlass Marketing, a full-service direct marketing firm operating within the wine industry in Napa, California.
From pruning, shoot thinning and positioning, leaf and lateral care to hands-on vine training, canopy management is the best way for a vineyard to achieve optimal, mature fruit from their vines. Good canopy management, partnered with the proper trellis and row spacing, allows vineyards to better combat fruit loss due to disease or pest damage while providing an overall protective and nurturing environment.
Canopy Management Is An Evolving Science
“It’s always been evolving, but it seems to be moving along at a more deliberate pace now,” said Duff Bevill, founder and partner of Bevill Vineyard Management in Healdsburg, California. “We’ve come a long way in the past 30 years from when it was fashionable just to have the California flop, meaning the grapes were grown-up vertically, and the canopy was left to flop over. When increased production was needed, and European varieties were introduced, it became apparent that we needed to provide better light and greater air circulation for the fruit. Around the 1980s came the push to reduce or eliminate bunch rot and mold, and after a particularly wet season, the practice of leafing began. Then around the mid-1980s, Dr. Richard Smart, an Australian viticulturist, revolutionized our way of grape growing with his Smart-Dyson trellis system.”
Smart’s trellis system helps canopy management by finding the balance in leaving enough foliage to facilitate the necessary photosynthesis process without causing excessive shading that would negatively impact fruit ripening or promote disease.
“His style of trellis system is still the way to go,” said Bevill. “We see the Vertical Shoot Position trellis or modified VSP trellis with movable wires used the most because it traditionally results in a high-quality first crop. Another popular configuration is the high wire system, with the first wire 42 to 48 inches above the ground and then a secondary wire hanging about six inches above that first one. The downside to the high wire system is that it creates a need for manual shoot training for about the first five years. But if done properly, subsequent pruning can be done mechanically, with manual pruning only necessary for mechanical misses. Suckering is also minimal.”
Bevill told The Grapevine Magazine that hand labor can eat up to 60% of a vineyard’s expenses, so that is an area of canopy management that is drawing extra attention. In an industry looking toward a mechanized future but, in the meantime, still requires hand labor, the VSP trellis remains the best all-around canopy management trellis for fruit production.
“First, that hand labor has to be available,” said Bevill, “and it needs to be available when needed, frequently and for extended times to get the fruit picked on time and during prime harvest conditions. That’s getting harder to come by and more expensive to utilize. We offer bunkhouses and higher wages to our immigrant workers here on H2A visas to ensure our labor availability. But if things keep going the way they are, I would estimate that such extensive use of hand labor will end within the next five or six years in favor of mechanical labor. Compatible trellis design, along with smart canopy management, has a lot to do with this, allowing your trellis systems and vine configurations to grow in a manner that is favorable to mechanical picking, pruning and leafing. It’s better if you can accomplish these tasks with the off-the-shelf mechanical implements available today.”
Bevill has already seen this in action. By applying the principles of trellis placement and design with well-planned canopy management, the cabernet sauvignon vineyards have shown a dramatic decrease in farming costs associated with labor.
“Only one man is needed per ten acres here in Sonoma County,” said Bevill. “That figure matches what we believe is necessary, and that’s also what we have and use. Currently, only about 50% of farms are mechanically harvested. Many older ones can’t take advantage of mechanized farming because of how they were originally planned. Some leafing and mechanical harvesting can be done, but much of the canopy management has to be done by hand. Some older vineyards with their original planted vine systems are still entirely managed using hand labor. We are seeing a lot of these vineyards now being pulled out and replanted to use a flat-faced trellis system more conducive to mechanical farming.”
Bevill told The Grapevine Magazine that mechanized farming will likely be the focus for the foreseeable future. There is nothing new on the horizon regarding the mechanical aspect of agriculture. All the advancements are within farming technology, things like devices to better detect the best times and amounts for irrigation, and increased uses for drone mapping. The yields and performance of high wire trellises are showing promise, but it will be another 10 years before any data can be confidently identified as reliable.
“Overall, farming knowledge is constantly increasing, and as a vineyard management company, we are always looking at new and better planting standards and goals. They’re all tied into making mechanized farming as friendly as possible,” said Bevill. “Acquiring and using machinery to do the work is certainly the way of the future. It’s much cheaper and more reliable than hand labor, and let’s face it, it’s there when you need it.”
Seeing Each Vineyard As A Unique Environment
“I literally have a different protocol for every vineyard depending on the winemaker’s desires for his product and the environment that we’re growing in,” said Mike Loconto, viticulturist for Barbour Vineyards, a vineyard management and development company in Napa, California. “You know, we do all the normal tasks, like suckering, tucking, shoot positioning and hedging, but the winemaker’s end goal determines the amount and timing of these tasks and the best canopy management practices for their situation. For example, we like to leave 12, 14, or 16 leaves per shoot to get two clusters of fruit out of each one, but when to remove those leaves is different for each client. We always like to open up the fruit zone, including below the clusters, but you have to leave just enough shade to baffle the sunlight and produce a great environment all around the fruit zone. It’s about getting sunlight and airflow to that bloom at the right time to deter disease and increase the quality of the fruit.”
Loconto told The Grapevine Magazine that canopy management in Napa is all about controlling the heat and sun exposure to provide the highest quality fruit and the highest volume of product. When some of the older vineyards were installed, they preferred open, wide spacing between the rows. Over time, in an attempt to increase grape production, the vineyards started tightening up and leaving less and less spacing between the rows. Some were tightened to the point that they lost volume, quality, or both by inadvertently limiting light and decreasing airflow, increasing heat retention and inferior growing conditions.
“Heat prevention here in Napa is big and proven to directly affect quality, so now we try to stay around the seven-foot mark for row spacing and utilize cross arms to provide shade and heat prevention for the fruit,” said Loconto. “In any vineyard installation, you want to be smart about canopy management and factor in the ability to mechanize the farming now or in the future. Labor is so expensive that even if you can find it, you may not be able to afford the amount you’ll need to get the tasks done on time. Canopy size and row spacing need to be used jointly so that at some point, mechanized tools can be used for leafing, pruning and harvesting. By using between eight and 12-inch cross arms, you make more effective use of available mechanized tools.”
Loconto works mostly with high-end cabernet growers, and over the past five to 10 years, he’s seen the customary canopy management practices start to change.
“Call it climate change or whatever, but we’re starting to see a fundamental change,” said Loconto. “There’s still a high use of VSP or modified VSP trellis systems, but any newly planted, replaced or moved rows are being repositioned and spun in a better and more precise North-South orientation. This makes better use of the natural path of the sun and maximizes and better balances the use of morning and afternoon for both sides of the canopy. After that, it’s about timing and the goals of the vineyard regarding their fruit and vine quality and desired yield. If you have weak or younger vines, it may be better to sucker sooner and perform your fruit thinning. For stronger and older vines, you can thin fruit and sucker later for maximum sugar loading. Open zones are beneficial for more aromatic profiles, and they can help with the amount of acidity and tannin development with simple vine management. You always want warm days and good sap flow for pruning.”
Different environments require different management and trellis considerations. Vineyards located in volatile weather settings have to be willing to use netting, shades or some other blocking material in case of severe weather, extreme winds or hailstorms. Some colder climate vineyards make use of buried canes, green growing vines that are pulled down and buried in the vine row. The Geneva Double Curtain trellis is a popular choice for increased frost protection because of its downward growing, split canopy system. Still, being bulky and top-heavy, it is a liability in areas experiencing frequent windy situations.
“Our biggest challenge here in Napa is to develop mechanized vineyards that retain the quality we’re known for, while also controlling heat and sun exposure issues,” said Loconto. “Everywhere you go, you’ll see misters and shade cloth used to combat sun exposure. For those older vineyards that are still orientated to have unequal amounts of sun in the morning and afternoon, there is a noticeable difference on the contrasting sides of the vine. Any issues we address have to be solved with the idea of optimizing our vineyards for mechanical farming. Plain and simple, labor is just hard to come by and getting harder. Some equipment manufacturers are helping by developing machines that are comparable to hand labor, gently pulling the right amount of leaves while being relatively gentle on the fruit and soft on the clusters. That trend has to continue to move towards the mechanized vineyard.”