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Building the Trellis, Part I | Project Sunlight - A Winemaker's Education

Building the Trellis, Part I

March 22, 2012 | By | Reply More

Here's how the vineyard looked last weekend, March 17. The posts are in the ground, the rows have been ripped, and it's beginning to look like a real vineyard! You can see our neighbors, the Alpacas, on the hill, top left.

How we built the trellis

Well, I have to be honest, I didn’t exactly build it myself.  Much as I wanted to install the posts with my own hands, I ended up short on time with the planting season upon us.  We needed to get the vines in the ground, pronto.

I’d spent much of the winter, between viticulture classes, my job and all of the work that goes into maintaining two separate properties, thinking about how to handle the trellis.  There were moments when it seemed simple enough — eight foot posts put 24 to 30 inches into the ground, plus some kind of end-post system, which would be only slightly more complicated.  And then, there were times when I wondered if I was up to the job.

Here’s a shot of one of the rows, showing the ripped soil.

As part of the planning, I did some research on what kind of equipment I’d need to buy or rent.   A lot of the literature suggests that the best way to put posts into the ground is to pound them in, but the equipment involved would have made that impractical for me to do on my own.  The easiest way to get the posts in is to drill the holes with an auger.

So, I briefly considered the idea of a hand-held power auger, which was the least expensive approach, or an auger for my tractor.  I spent a lot of time visualizing the process, and considering whether it would be more cost-effective to do it myself or hire someone to do the work.  I was pretty confident I could get the line posts in without a problem, but I spent a lot more time worrying about the end posts, which are more complicated.  At some point, I began waking up at 4 a.m. to worry about how much work needed to be done and wonder if the vines we had ordered were destined to just, uh, rot on the vine?  No, bad metaphor.  Go to seed?  mmmm…. no, that doesn’t work either.  Wither and die?  Well, something like that.

Eventually, we passed the point where I could reasonably expect that it would be possible to get the equipment, buy the posts and put everything in myself.  I called a couple of fencing companies who told me in a cheerful way that yes, they could do the work, but the ones I talked to were pretty vague about past work in vineyards.

I thought about posting a note on the Virginia Vineyards Association site to ask for ideas, but it finally hit me that the there were state resources to draw upon.  So, I called

Another shot of a row, with the plowed earth more visible

the Nelson County Office of the Virginia Cooperative Extension, and asked for help.  Michael LaChance, Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent, gave me the name of a local man who could do the work: Jay Goodwin, based in Arrington, Va., a small town in Nelson County.

And he was great.  He met with us Sunday morning a few weeks ago, and talked through some trellis design ideas.  We kept it simple.  We’re going for Vertical Shoot Positioning, or VSP, throughout the vineyard, and Jay recommended using an “H-brace” at the end, instead of the more traditional anchor post that’s set at a 60-degree angle to the ground, with an anchor holding it down.  The H-brace accomodates two vines underneath, so we would get an extra four vines per row.  And in a small hobby vineyard like ours, we don’t want to waste any more space than we have to.

Here’s the wire, loaded on a “spinning jenny” that will be used in constructing the “H-braces.” Same kind of wire that the vines hang on.

It took a good bit of time to map out the vineyard, and we went through a number of different designs, which I’ll elaborate on in a future post.  For now, though, suffice it to say that Jay started the job last week, and by the weekend, he had ripped the rows down to three feet, and installed all of the line posts.  I have to say, we were thrilled.  It wasn’t finished, but it looked like a real vineyard.

This week, he started construction of the H-braces.  We won’t be able to see them until Saturday, but based on the work that’s already been done, I’m sure it’s going very well.  I’ll talk more about them in Part II.  And before I finish, let me say that we think it possible the first of our vines, 25 Petit Manseng, will be delivered this weekend, so we can start with the planting.  Unless, of course, it rains.  Which seems likely.

How does anyone manage to plant in the Spring?

 

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Category: All Posts, Viticulture

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