How to Rebuild a Vineyard
Planting a vineyard from scratch is a process that usually takes years of planning and organization, but I didn’t feel that I had that much time to spare. Fortunately, I was able to convince my vineyard manager that I was determined and we should get going as soon as possible! With Covid still looming, there were delays and shortages of everything from electrical, irrigation and fencing to plant material and workers, and to get everything done consecutively was a major logistical struggle. But with the professional team at Barbour Vineyard Management we pushed on in record time.
As we planned the new vineyard, by using the same footprint of the original vineyard planted in 1989, we kept coming up with “What is new and better? What technology can we incorporate? What spacing and trellising has proven to do a great job?” We made the decision to remain not only sustainable, but to become organic and regenerative.
Although only 2/3 of the vines had actually been burnt, the heat had compromised all the irrigation and remaining vines, so we made the decision to pull out, redevelop and replant the entire property. The irrigation was removed, the vines pulled, the wires and end stakes removed and all of it was hauled off to the dump. When the well guys finally dropped new pipes and installed new pressure tanks for irrigation, they told me that if they had turned the well on now, the property would probably look like Bellagio in Vegas, with all the water coming out of the burned underground pipes!
The terraces were re-groomed and hills of rocks removed. Compost with bio-char was added, new culverts and ditches were dug across the entire hillside to replace the underground irrigation pipes, and electrical panels were reworked for the well, gate and pump. Generators connected to new propane tanks to give us back-up power were installed and the vineyard stakes, wire, drip irrigation and end posts were set as the foundation for the vines. I got giddy every time I saw a delivery of something for the vineyard stacked in the driveway . . . progress!
All the while, I was arranging for the removal of hundreds of large trees throughout the property which had burned and were dangerous. Many of the remaining trees that we had left, hoping they would regrow, also toppled in the winds and rain. The existing scorched fence was patched until the new fence could be built the next year. Amazingly, thousands of one year old bench-grafted vines arrived from the nursery in late June, holes were dug, micronutrients added to the plant material and the vines were in the ground and growing 10 months after the fire.
Cover crop seeds, including beautifully flowering calendulas, orange CA poppies and red Normandy poppies, were spread between the rows to hold the soil and straw was laid to secure and protect the seeds from any winter storms. With over 7 inches of rain in both October and December of that year, and newly tilled soil and compost to grow in, the cover crop was off to a blazing start, growing over 3 feet that winter. The baby vines grew up to almost 6 feet tall, a precursor for healthy vines whose roots were happy in their new home.