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Between the Vines DIY terroir: Be ready with a Plan B

A careful pre-planting assessment of your site is essential for proper modification. By Gary Strachan


o you ever have the feeling that nomatter what you do it isn’t working?Maybe go back to bed

and start the day over? It’s a bit like operating a vineyard. Say it’s been a tough spring and

bud break was late. You expect the crop tomature late, especially if you leave toomany clusters, so you cluster-thin heavily to accelerate ripening. Then you have a perfect summer and the growth in the vineyard looks like a jungle because you didn’t balance it out with a heavy enough crop load. Murphy’s Law says that “Whatever

can go wrong will go wrong, and in the worst possible way.” The point of the exercise is to always have a Plan B so that the “worst possible way” is more acceptable. The best possible Plan B is to do a

careful assessment of the site before you plant. This is the only time to choose andmodify your terroir.With a good terroir, the vagaries of weather become less severe. I prefer an eastern exposure

because the site warmsmore quickly in themorning sun and is sheltered fromthe intense heat of the afternoon. A western exposure can be an advantage inmarginal locations where an extra increment of heat is required to ripen long season varieties, but there is also the risk of overheating the vines in the afternoon and suppressing photosynthesis. Exposed red grapesmay be heated to the point that the evaporation of flavour compounds exceeds their rate of synthesis on hot days. Picture the problema plant has to adapt to a daily 20-degree change in temperature. Slope is important. A five percent

slope is enough to provide good air drainage, without creating traction problems. A 30 percent slope will collect a higher temperature, but is

26 British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Fall 2013

Two-month-old vines, planted in a supportive terroir. The original topsoil was sandy silt. All plants were hand-planted in an augured hole with a sand backfill and Mycorrhizae inoculum.

harder to service. Beyond 30percent youmight have to cope with the inefficiencies of terraces. If the site is rolling, youmust

accept that every change in slope will affect fruit composition. There will also be a difference between top, bottomand centre of a slope. Before you plant, decide how

important it is to have uniform composition of the fruit fromyour vineyard. If uniformcomposition is

important, then the topsoil should be removed, the site recontoured and the soil profile restored. While on the subject of soil profile,

we should consider how to support healthy roots. Look for well-drained soil, hopefully with humus or silt near the surface. If the site has fine soil that drains poorly, then the vineyard must be deep ripped prior to planting. Plants in fine soil should also have assistance to establish by auguring or

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