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Growing Pains, Part 1: The Bad News

Posted: Apr 23, 2007 12:59pm ET

Q: What do you call a boomerang that doesn't come back?

A: A stick.

And that's exactly what I have planted on the majority of my lower vineyards. Winter kill and late frost have kicked my vines right in the huevos. This is the second year in a row we've had issues in these vineyards. We went into this knowing that there would be growing pains, so it's no surprise. It's just disappointing.

There are so many variables to consider. Both of the vineyards in question are just in and a little above the flood plain along Oak Creek. No doubt we get some chilly air settling. Most of the soil along the lower edge, closest to the creek, is very sandy with not much organic material. Then there is the question of variety and rootstock.

Today is our big powwow to discuss a no-holds-barred approach to sorting this out. It's time to do controlled experiments that involve specific variations before I go dumping more cash into this bottomless well. Berm a couple rows, don't berm a couple. We'll plant a few rows on their own rootstock, and a few rows on 110R or another rootstock. Experiment with vines that push later than others, as well as with alternating sleeves/grow tubes to protect the young vines—one with, the next one without and so on. Might even plant some hearty rootstock, get it growing up above the freeze-zone, then graft. Lots to consider.

One thing that may be a huge factor is the organic material present in the soil. The elevation of Eric's vineyard is almost the same as mine. He's had similar temperatures as well. But his lot has more organic material/loam and has a bit more grade than my lower lots. In addition, the vines that are one year older are doing fine. Other than a slight bit of frost, nothing tragic. It may be just a matter of getting past that first volatile year. So the good news is we may not be far off from a solution. And as we all know, a little stress can lead to a good grape. It's just a matter of discovering that point of balance.

Part 2 of this blog will be more about boomerangs and less about sticks. Stay tuned.

Maynard James Keenan
page Springs, az —  April 24, 2007 12:58pm ET
Side Note: One of the vineyards my partner put in just outside of Prescott, AZ had even more extreme cold issues. Some of their nights dipped down to 9F. Next to no winter kill. Just some frost damage. But their soil has far more loam. Could be a clue for us. Part 2 of this Blog will map out our Game Plans for you. Stay tuned.
Andrew J Walter
Sacramento,CA —  April 24, 2007 1:57pm ET
What are the other guys in Oak Creek doing in terms of root stock, grape selection etc. Hopefully you won't have to reinvent the wheel or make another album to fund this!! In any case, I do look forward to the results.
Ralph Pepino
April 24, 2007 8:17pm ET
Well if this results in a quicker Tool release, I hope the whole crop dies!Just kidding of course. Here's wishing you great success so that hopefully some of your wine will be available here in NYC some time soon.
Charles J Stanton
Eugene, OR —  April 25, 2007 1:24pm ET
Frost in a marginal climate is always a big risk, particularly for young vines, as they tend to bud out earlier than established ones. Not sure why loam (as opposed to clay or sand) is more frost protective, maybe it releases stored heat a little better. In my own experience with a young vineyard in Oregon, where frosts are an annual concern, grow tubes aren't much help. They tend to push shoot growth when it warms up, but concentrate the cold air around the vine when it dips below freezing. I put them on the new vines when I'm 99% sure the risk of frost is over.

Rootstocks like 110R and 420A will delay budbreak by a week or so, and berming is a great idea with new vines. Clean cultivation helps cold air 'slide' down the hill, and if you can afford it fans will provide some protection. If you have lots of water, putting overhead misters on your drip system will salvage shoots a few degrees below freezing.

Oregon Wine puts out a great handbook on cool climate viticulture that has been my bible, and it may be worthwhile in your situation. Good luck with your viticulture venture, it is rewarding but as you are aware, a hell of a lot of work.

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