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Wine grapes and organic wine in a humid climate: Am I crazy?  RSS feed

 
Dave de Basque
Posts: 126
Location: Basque Country, Spain-43N lat-Köppen Cfb-Zone8b-1035mm/41" rain: 118mm/5" Dec., 48mm/2" July
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Just thought I would put out a crazy idea here for more experienced people to slap down. Or not.

3ha/7 acres southwest-facing sunny grass. 12-20% slope. Soil=fairly nutrient-rich clay, short on phosphorous, fine otherwise.

Climate = fairly humid year-round. Powdery mildew is a problem with some plants, assume this would be true with the grapes.

There are conventional wine grape producers in the area that do fairly well for themselves. There is a particular style of coastal green wine called "txakoli" that is gaining traction in the international marketplace. And of course pinot noir and a couple of other things I could try in a mild coastal climate.

So here are my questions:

--Where can I find out about the ins and outs of growing wine grapes organically and its challenges? Book recommendations? Websites? Bonus if it takes into account a humid climate similar to the coastal Pacific Northwest in the USA.
--How long after I plant new vines would it be until I have a crop? Until the vineyard is in full production?
--What are the realistic labor requirements?
--Would the predominance of cool, humid weather (nice for mildew-like spores) be too much for organic growing methods?
--Is this, as it seems, a decent money-maker? At least potentially? And if so, under what circumstances?

Thanks for all your permie wisdom
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9696
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Grapes seem to be a huge investment to plant and care for. Our neighbors up the road put an acre into grapes and had to give up on them after a couple years; too much work. This with a local buyer for grapes, a winery just a few miles away. So everything was going for them but they couldn't handle all the care. The folks moved and the vineyard was replaced by pecan trees.
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 2302
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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Dave de Basque wrote:Just thought I would put out a crazy idea here for more experienced people to slap down. Or not.

3ha/7 acres southwest-facing sunny grass. 12-20% slope. Soil=fairly nutrient-rich clay, short on phosphorous, fine otherwise.

Climate = fairly humid year-round. Powdery mildew is a problem with some plants, assume this would be true with the grapes.

There are conventional wine grape producers in the area that do fairly well for themselves. There is a particular style of coastal green wine called "txakoli" that is gaining traction in the international marketplace. And of course pinot noir and a couple of other things I could try in a mild coastal climate.

So here are my questions:

--Where can I find out about the ins and outs of growing wine grapes organically and its challenges? Book recommendations? Websites? Bonus if it takes into account a humid climate similar to the coastal Pacific Northwest in the USA.
--How long after I plant new vines would it be until I have a crop? Until the vineyard is in full production?
--What are the realistic labor requirements?
--Would the predominance of cool, humid weather (nice for mildew-like spores) be too much for organic growing methods?
--Is this, as it seems, a decent money-maker? At least potentially? And if so, under what circumstances?

Thanks for all your permie wisdom


First off, welcome to the path of vinter.
Since you have vineyards in your area, try talking to them, the folks I've talked to at local wineries have been happy to help me.

It has been hammered into me by almost every vineyard keeper I've talked to that really good wine grapes come from the poorest soil.
Apparently the more the vine has to struggle to survive and search for nutrients, the better the grapes (for wine making).
In my case this was great news, I have (as it turns out) the perfect south facing hill side for a vineyard.

It takes three to four years for a newly planted vine to produce well. The first three years you are pruning them for proper shape and the fourth year they are developed enough for a crop to be grown and harvested.
Labor is divided into stages; first you are building the vineyard support system (planting poles and installing support wires), second you are planting the vines, third you are pruning to main leaders and getting these to grow along the support wires, fourth you are pruning and watching out for molds, insect damage, etc.
Most grapes are only sprayed with insecticide when needed. More and more vinters are going no spray. Organic is just a USDA label and usually is reserved for table grape growers, it's a waste of money for a vinter apparently.
Yes you can make money at it, it takes several years to see a profit though since you will have 3 years of no money return while you get the vineyard established. Then you have all the equipement to buy and install, followed by harvesting, crushing, fermenting, casking, bottling, packing and shipping

High humidity means you want to have wider spacing, both between vines and between rows of vines. Wind will be your friend since that one thing means less opportunity for molds and mildew formation.

Now for a few reference books;

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Starting and Running a Winery by Thomas Pellechia. (200 ISBN: 1592578187.

How to Launch Your Wine Career: Dream Jobs in America's Hottest Industry by Liz Thatch and Brian D'Emilio. (2009) ISBN: 1934259063

Commercial Winemaking, Processing, and Controls by Richard P. Vine. (1981) ISBN: 87055-376-3

Micro Vinification: A Practical Guide to Small-Scale Wine Production by Murli R. Dharmadhikari and Karl L. Walker. (2001) ISBN: 0970797109

Monitoring the Winemaking Process from Grapes to Wine: Techniques and Concepts by Patrick Iland, Nick Bruer, Andrew Ewart, Andrew Markides, and John Sitters. (2004) ISBN: 095816052.

Chemical Analysis of Grapes and Wine: Techniques and Concepts by Patrick Iland, Nick Bruer, Greg Edwards, Sue Weeks, and Eric Wilkes. (2004) ISBN: 0958160511

Microbiological Analysis of Grapes and Wine: Techniques and Concepts by Patrick Iland, Paul Grbin, Martin Grinbergs, Leigh Schmidtke, and Allison Sodin in conjunction with the Interwinery Analysis Group. (2007) ISBN: 0958160544

Wine Analysis and Production by Bruce W. Zoecklein, Kenneth C. Fugelsang, Barry H. Gump, and Fred S. Nury. (1999) ISBN:0-8342-1701-5

Wine Microbiology: Practical Applications and Procedures by Kenneth C. Fugelsang and Charles G. Edwards. (2007) ISBN:0-387-33341-X

Introduction to Wine Laboratory Practices and Procedures by Jean L. Jacobson. (2006) ISBN: 0-387-24377-1

And Wine maker magazine

For me growing my little vineyard is an adventure, Lots of work but not so much that it can't be handled, but then I'm not trying to plant and care for 100+ acres of vines.
My little vineyard will cover around 1 acre just enough for us, and I currently have two varieties going, with plans to add two more varieties in a separate 1 acre vineyard.
 
David Livingston
steward
Posts: 3198
Location: Anjou ,France
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IO suggest you read up on the European regulations on organic grapes as I suspect they are different to the USA
Here in France organic wine is quite big and relatively common plus now there is even a more extreme natural movement with even more stringent criteria
I would also check out noble rot evidently mould on your grapes can be a good thing
 
Jay Angler
Posts: 131
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This may not be what you want to hear, but I live in an area with inconsistent heat and issues with powdery mildew and there are several very popular "wineries" that don't use grapes. Three whose product I've tasted, use apples, and a forth runs a medery (spelling? - wine made out of honey+/-fruit added). I personally have made Blackberry wine which was extremely popular, and last year was given a bumper crop of figs and out of desperation to use them up before they went bad, I made a gallon of fig wine which has been a *very* popular dry wine. You get a gentle aftertaste of the fig and it's been a great dinner wine. So all I'm suggesting is that you consider not trying to compete with local products if your ecosystem might have equally good alternatives. Sometimes being unique can give you an edge! Some people will try something just because it is different, and if you've got a good product, they will come back.

 
Kyrt Ryder
Posts: 746
Location: Graham, Washington [Zone 7b, 47.041 Latitude] 41inches average annual rainfall, cool summer drought
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Dave de Basque wrote:--Where can I find out about the ins and outs of growing wine grapes organically and its challenges? Book recommendations? Websites? Bonus if it takes into account a humid climate similar to the coastal Pacific Northwest in the USA.

You should find this online pamphlet a valuable resource.
--How long after I plant new vines would it be until I have a crop?
Grapes typically start producing during their second or third growing season.
Until the vineyard is in full production?
I'd ballpark five years but I'm only in the beginning phase of my own experiments with grapes and answering on hearsay.
--What are the realistic labor requirements?
Depends on which pruning methods you go for. Based on everything I've read optimal production does require some form of pruning.
--Would the predominance of cool, humid weather (nice for mildew-like spores) be too much for organic growing methods?
No but it will dictate which cultivars will work for you.
--Is this, as it seems, a decent money-maker? At least potentially? And if so, under what circumstances?
It's most profitable if you open your own winery, rather than selling to others.
 
Dave de Basque
Posts: 126
Location: Basque Country, Spain-43N lat-Köppen Cfb-Zone8b-1035mm/41" rain: 118mm/5" Dec., 48mm/2" July
22
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Wow, guys, thanks for some real quality posts! It will take me a while to take it all in.

My main lingering question, before buying a bunch of books, is, what is the indispensable winery equipment that is so so so expensive? Everyone seems to agree you can spend a fortune starting a winery, what are those big-ticket items you can't live without? I bet I could pick some stuff up second hand in La Rioja, where there seems to be about one winery for every 10 inhabitants.

Am I dreaming to think that there is a poor boy's way into this industry?
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 2302
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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The main essential equipment is; Crusher (used to be feet in a barrel but no more allowed), fermentation tank(s) piping to move the fresh juice from crusher to fermenter, wood casks (barrels) to age the fresh wine in once fermented, bottles, corks, storage racks, boxes for shipping finished wine.

In the USA, if you are going to sell your wine, everything that grapes touch must be stainless steel or glass, the only time the grapes/ juice/ wine touch anything else is when it goes into the wood. Oh, and you need a temperature controlled area for aging the wine in the barrels.
This is usually done traditionally in caves, but now a days many wineries are using above ground, temperature/ humidity controlled buildings.

You can find the USA requirements at TTB.gov

The "po-boy" method would be to hand transfer, stage to stage but you still will need stainless steel containers to be legal for sales of your wine.
 
alex Keenan
Posts: 487
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Airflow is the key to your grapes.
Also temperature and moisture are factors.
I have to deal with high humidity. It becomes a factor as temperature rises.
This is why I water in the morning, so the plants can dry out in the day.
At high temperatures it only takes a few hours for wet plants to develop mold and mildew issues.
Design for air flow, water so they can dry, be prepared to remove moldy fruit.
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 2302
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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ground level drip irrigation is the best method for watering vines. That way no water gets on the leaves and you aren't loosing any water to evaporation.

The vineyards I've visited and talked to the folks that grow the grapes told me to remove the grape bunches the second year since you are really wanting root development at that stage of their life.
These same growers said that the third year I'm to only allow one bunch per branch to grow, this is all aimed at having great grapes in the years that follow. They emphasized that in the beginning you want development of the vines over fruit.

We have high humidity and high heat in Arkansas during the summers, spacing of branches and space between rows is the best way to keep mildew and molds down.
Our grape area is on a south facing slope that almost always has some air flow coming up the hill, I am spacing rows 5 feet apart up the hill and vines are 5 feet apart as well.
I'll be installing ground level drip irrigation (leaky pipe) lines this summer so I can get away from using the watering cans.
 
Ben Zumeta
Posts: 178
Location: Redwood Country, Zone 9, 60" rain/yr,
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In the long run, my understanding is that if you don't dry farm grapes they will never reach their full potential in terms of quality and drought resistance. This is why irrigation of vineyards is not allowed in France. A little help in the height of summer in the first year is okay, but really if we lose vines we did not mulch enough or the vine was weak.
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 2302
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
183
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Ben Zukisian wrote:In the long run, my understanding is that if you don't dry farm grapes they will never reach their full potential in terms of quality and drought resistance. This is why irrigation of vineyards is not allowed in France. A little help in the height of summer in the first year is okay, but really if we lose vines we did not mulch enough or the vine was weak.


I agree, irrigation for my farm will only be used for the first three years, mostly to help the roots get well established.
One other thing about grapes seems to be that the soil doesn't and should not be really rich, you want some struggle going on.
Air flow is super important as are air and soil temperatures, makes me wonder how they ever got good wine back in the beginnings of grape cultivation.
So many things that it seems have to be just so. One professional Vinter here has agreed to help me establish my little vineyard and I am very grateful to know him.
 
Crt Jakhel
Posts: 157
Location: NE Slovenia, zone 6a
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The US native grapes (labrusca, riparia, rotundifolia) and their cultivars are robust but as you're in Europe you must already know that there are strong restrictions on selling wine from "American" grapes. There is some historical (phylloxera) as well as economic background for this suppression. In any case, you'll need an European (vinifiera) style of grapevine for the European market. And these grapes just love to catch all kinds of problems, resulting in grapes being one of the most heavily sprayed crops.

You don't want to do that, so maybe have a look at interspecific grapes - crosses between grapes of American and European stock (and possibly others like vitis amurensis etc).

They have been developed in the last several decades with the goal of achieving vinifera-like taste and wine quality while at the same time being robust and healthy so that the requirements for the grower's applications of various heavy stuff are much reduced or even nonexistent if you feel adventurous and don't mind an occassional total loss. The German online market in particular carries a wide selection.

These guys for example seem to use interspecific hybrids: http://chevelswardeorganics.co.uk/our-wines/

We grow some cultivars just as table grapes at our location - Regent, Nero, Millennium, Frumoasa alba... Regent in particular seems to easily live up to its reputation for staying in good health and being able to deal with swings in environmental factors.  Ours is 6 years old and responded to a late frost by going crazy and colonizing another 3 m wide slot previously taken by another cultivar (Nero) which was severely damaged.

See also - especially in the context of a Pacific North-West climate - https://hollywoodhillvineyards.wordpress.com/2007/10/11/the-regent-grape/ and http://www.winegrowers.info/varieties/Vine_varieties/Regent.htm . Note: PiWi = pilzwiderstandsfähig = resistant to fungal disease. There's an international organization of growers: http://www.piwi-international.de/en/

Note that Regent can also be used as a table grape whereas Rondo's grapes are just too small and have very pronounced pips (seeds).

Best of luck in your efforts!
 
Henry Jabel
Posts: 126
Location: Worcestershire, England
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We have vineyards popping up all over southern England and Wales so I am sure you be quite alright in Basque country if you choose your location wisely.

Some important points are using the correct trellis design to ensure airflow to prevent mildew. Also selecting suitable varieties the ones here primarily use french or german varieties interestingly no one uses American hybrids and I have been told the flavour is not as desirable.

For the powdery mildew the Biodynamic vineyards use Equisetum to make a preventative spray.

Some of the English and Welsh wines are excellent and some of the best I have tried I am sure Basque wine might share some of the same characteristics.
 
Ben Zumeta
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Location: Redwood Country, Zone 9, 60" rain/yr,
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And haven't the Basques been growing wine grapes for as long as people have been writing?
 
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