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So, you want to start a vineyard?

By Staff | Apr 17, 2009

\DES MOINES – The Iowa Wine Growers Association held its 2009 annual conference last month in Des Moines, which included essential information for those interested in starting a vineyard.

Randall Vos, viticulture instructor at Des Moines Area Community College presented “Introduction to Grape Production,” and stressed the point that much research should be done before starting a vineyard.

Vos strongly encouraged producers to read all of the information they can find including Midwest Grape Production Guide, Midwest Commercial Small Fruit and Grape Spray Guide, and visiting the Michigan State grape Web site and looking into DMACC and Iowa State University’s viticulture program information.

He also advised to “not rush into any decision and start small.” Vos said that not all Iowa soil types are ideal for grape production.

“Don’t assume your land is the best place for a vineyard,” said Vos. He added it is crucial to get one’s soil tested and that drainage is a very viable part for vine growth.

Before he said to talk to a county Farm Services Agency office to get permission before grapes can be grown legally. “Chance are,” Vos said, “your land will have to be taken out of the federal program in order to grow grapes.”

Then he said to take soil samples, test the drainage and tile if needed. Whatever the soil samples say, it may be required the pH gets adjusted which sometimes, Vos said may take a year or two to adjust.

There are many Web sites that are good tools and should be used as a guide to helping one to decide where to start a vineyard. One site is the Iowa Soil and Land Use Soil Interpretations: Vineyard Suitability, as well as the Web Soil Survey.

Other issues that may come into play for choosing a location for a vineyard is topography, as choosing a location by elevation is also a good idea and to make sure to know one’s hardiness zone when planting begins.

Vos said it is important to consider one’s location, to plant cultivars adapted to your region and to talk or contract with wineries to see what types of grapes they are interested in purchasing and in what quantities.

“Grow what you can sell and consider what it is you can sell,” he said. “Find out what and how much the wineries will purchase.”

Vos said selling grapes to home wine makers is also an option, but to keep in mind there is a limited market for them.

Some of the commonly planted red grapes include De Chaunac, Frontenac, GR-7, Marechal Foch and Marquette while some of the commonly planted whites include Brianna, Edelweiss, Esprit, Frontenac Gris and La Crescent.

The chances for 2, 4-D drift causing damage to one’s vineyard is a large possibility and Vos said to be aware of that and to work with neighbors.

“2, 4-D drift is a big reality in the state as many are reliant on it for crop production,” said Vos. “Work with your neighbors, make a plan and be realistic. Be cautious and don’t be antagonistic. Explain when your sensitive times should be for them to avoid spraying.”

Training vines

The three trellising systems for vines Vos discussed included the high wire cordon, mid wire cordon or the vertical shoot position and the Geneva Double Curtain.

The high wire cordon is the method most commonly used in Iowa.

“It’s the least expensive and best for the cultivars grown in Iowa,” said Vos.

This system he said is ideal for trailing and intermediate cultivars and for medium to high vines. The fruit with this method also grows up high for good exposure.

Some of the disadvantages of the method is the canopy can become too dense if not correctly positioned and wind can be known to break shoots.

The biggest investment in any system, Vos said are the posts.

“Being frugal can cost you more money. Don’t be stingy with posts,” said Vos.

When selecting posts, Vos advised to make sure they have enough preservative for underground use for wooden and be careful that if using metal posts to make sure they’re strong enough to not bend under pressure of the heavy vines.

Weeds, pests, diseases

Pests can be detrimental to any vineyard, with weeds being the number one concern in a young vineyard.

Vos said to use a pre-emergence and post-emergence herbicide and to be aware of the label as some herbicides are only labeled for non-bearing vineyards and some are labeled only for mature vineyards.

The Midwest Commercial Small Fruit and Grape Spray Guide 2009 is a great resource for those concerns, he added.

Like other crops, there are major diseases to be aware of such as anthracnose, black rot and downy mildew.

Down mildew, he said, was a problem last year due to excessive rains. Other diseases to be aware of include sour rot and crown gall.

Crown Gall is very easily spread and is one’s grapes are infected with sour rot they may need to be harvested earlier to avoid the vinegar taste and smell the grapes will acquire.

In closing, Vos said that although a vineyard can be profitable after many years, there is a lot of time involved in caring for a vineyard.

Contact Kriss Nelson by e-mail at jknelson@frontiernet.net.

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