Grapevine & Wine 02/02/2009

Materials and methods for vineyard plant

Once the variety, clone and graft holder have been chosen, the rooted vines are left to plant. Still, we face a few options. Not only agronomic aspects have to be taken into account. Economic factors play a first-rate role as well

The phase of planting a vineyard and any choice before the put in place of the rooted vines are instrumental in achieving a safe result for the farmer.
The decisions taken at this stage are hardly revocable in the following, so that it is of great importance not to incur in potential management or practical problems. As a consequence, a preliminary study is recommended before making any move.
A rule to follow always before putting into the vineyard into place requires to consult the technicians who are involved in the farm, that is to say the agriculturalist first and the oenologist second because the problems to debate present technical, legislative, economic and oenologic implications.

Preliminary operations: deep trench plowing and deep fertilization
A vineyard is planted starting from a set of preliminary conditions that can never be neglected: the physical and chemical analysis of the soil and a topdressing based on the use of organic substances, phosphorus and potassium, even though the latter one is almost always present in the zones for vineyards.
The deep fertilization should be followed by a deep trench plowing at 80-100 cm (32-40 in) of depth or a deep plought at the same depth. In the latter case, it is appropriate that the crossings of the ripper run in length and width across our plot of land.
After the deep trench plowing operations, it is recommendable to check the level of the ground in order not to leave any hollow which could create problems with water stagnation. If our plot is not situated in sloping ground, a good rule before putting the rooted vines into place is to refine the soil by passing a rotating harrow in order to create a good substrate around the young plants.
If the plan is to plant a vineyard during the Spring, the deep trench plowing operations should be performed during the previous Summer, so that biotic and abiotic events could favor an ideal ground structure for putting the rooted vines into place.
A few months earlier, the wine grower must choose the variety and possibly the clone of the plant that will be planted. This is the point that needs the expertise of both the agriculturalist and the oenologist: type of soil, plant density, choice of the graft holder, type of wine to commercialize. These are all considerations to be evaluated with as large an advance as possible and which deserve to be carefully pondered by the farmer, with the help of his trusted technicians.
Let’s take another step further up. Giving for granted that our wine grower has formulated the choices and goals of his desire for the culture, he must proceed and put the vineyard into place.
To create a vineyard, these are the operative phases, all equally important:
- putting the rooted vines into place
- putting the rows supporting poles into the ground
- deployment of the wires
- putting the minor supports for every single rooted vine into place
- maintenance of the plant
Each of these steps will be now analyzed, one by one, starting from the most important phase
Putting the rooted vines into place.
This operation can be achieved through various interventions. After squaring the plot of land (identification of
rows), it can be started either manually or mechanically.
Manually, it is realized making a hole into the ground with a pale to a depth of about 30 cm (1 foot) and inserting the rooted vine with the whole root or with a largely shortened root in order to stimulate the vegetative recovery, which can be reactivated thanks to an immersion in water 12 hours before planting, too.
Another manual method, not used anymore, consists in opening a trench in the ground where the young tree will be planted, then covered with a shovel.
In the last few years, farmers have been use planting machines towed by tractor engines in order to save time and money on workers who would otherwise be extremely necessary in this phase. Nowadays, two different types of machines are available, which differ for the type of putting in place they permit to perform. The Wagner machine opens a small plough in the soil, put the BARBATELLE with whole roots in place and closes the plough with two discs, which are meant to press the ground by close to the tree.
The Clemens machine utilizes instead a piston that creates a hole to insert the plant and two wheels to press the ground. This machine also distributes water (2 lt for each single plant).
Analyzing pros and cons after trying all the described methods, the manual putting in place is certainly convenient, from an economic standpoint, where there is sufficient manpower, while the mechanical method saves time, but it results more expensive (up to one hectare per day can be worked, at a cost of 2000-2500,00 Euro. The Wagner machine is better because the roots are whole and are adequately hydrated, but it is not efficient in stony grounds or too clayey, where the Clemens machine is more efficient, because of the hole it realizes instead of the plough.

Putting the poles
The year following the putting in place of the vineyard, support poles are usually positioned, after careful choice by the farmer. Several options are available: decompressed concrete supports, wooden poles, steel poles are the possibilities. Focusing our attention on the last two, saying wood we refer to autoclaved material, warranted by the provider, while the steel poles are beams of different types and brands, warranted for up to the 30 years. Nowadays, both kinds of poles are postioned with machine hung to three points of the tractor, even though the wooden poles can be manually positioned by means of drills.
The number of poles per hectare depends on the density of the plants; usually, one pole is positioned every 5-6 meters (approximately 15-20 feet). Wooden poles are undoubtedly more pleasant than a row of steel poles, from an esthetical point of view. Nevertheless, the latter have more accessories, such as sleepers and other devices to support the wires (side hooks). Also, steel poles are indicated for the mechanical harvesting of the grapes, tank to their good flexibility. The price are variable, but a steel pole 250 cm tall (8 ft) costs approximately 3.70 euro/pole.

Supporting wires
Supporting wires are generally displaced manually, by inserting a basal wire to which the cord is fixed together with three couples, one upon the other in height, to anchor the green in the hypothesis of nursing in the rammed cord manner. The first wire usually has a diameter of 2.80 cm, the others 2.20 cm.
The metal wires are usually made of steel or of a zinc-aluminium alloy, which offers more ductility and resilience.
The wires are fixed at the endings of the rows, whose bigger poles are anchored to the ground by means of pulls usually made of concrete plates inserted in the ground. After the wires have been placed, a so-called “minor” holder can be placed for any rooted vine so that its growth is facilitated in height, something that is important in the first years of life of the vineyard. These holders are usually made either of iron or bamboo, with a diameter of 18/20 cm (7-8 in) and a height of 120 cm (4 ft). They are fixed to the main wire by steel hooks. It is better to avoid other types of materials.
Our vineyard is now ready for a yearly cycle of maintenance, to be repeat for the next 30 years, when some operation will need to be revised.
To give a raw idea of the costs of planting a vineyard, each hectare will cost approximately 15,000 euros, not including the right to re-plant, and distributed on two years. It is the case to say that planting a vineyard is pretty expensive, indeed.

di Lorenzo Brugali