Avoid disaster: set up your vineyard the first time

is it going to cost that much?! One can understand why you feel financial hardship when setting up new vineyards. A lot of capital goes into setting up the vineyard; in this situation, cutting costs can be attractive. However, experience shows where costs can be reduced and where money is well spent.

Although these costs must be paid or funded as they are incurred, it is useful to think about the useful life associated with these costs. The photos on this page are examples of using an insufficient number of poles on a vine trellis, causing massive failure in the first 10 years of the vineyard. Posts that fail during the growing season require a lot of smart work to fix. Replacing failed truss structures always costs more than doing it right the first time.

Supply chain disruptions have added a layer of complexity to these recommendations. Required positions may not be available. What should be done? Toss or pivot, but please don’t settle for an inadequate long-term solution. Punt, in this case, postpones planting. If that’s not an option, go for a short-term solution. Neither are ideal, but they are extreme circumstances. Whatever you do, don’t install an inadequate temporary solution and forget about it. Be sure to plan for a replacement or renovation.

Extreme weather conditions will increase the stresses on the mesh components. It only takes one example of extreme weather conditions to find the limits of the trellis. The first image shows a trellis toppled over by strong, straight-line winds in 2009. The second shows a trellis end assembly that failed during Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Lattice end assembly failed due to hurricane force winds. Could a good installation of the vineyard prevent this? Photo by Tremain Hatch

Given our luck over the past two years, I wouldn’t bet on calm weather without big storms over the next 20 years.

The same foresight goes a long way to integrating mechanization into a wine business.

At a minimum, make sure the trellis is even and straight. It makes sense to talk to extension educators, equipment vendors, and other growers using mechanization to get information about lessons learned with trellis features and mechanization of different vineyard tasks.

We do not need to face these obstacles alone. Talking to a nearby farmer can double your prospect. Discussing different vendors, delivery options, or even swapping horror stories can be as simple as waving at a neighbor on the road or posting to an online group.

One of the great advantages of our industry is that there are no production secrets. I can’t think of anyone in the industry who wouldn’t be willing to answer certain questions or brainstorm solutions to supply chain issues. We are not farming on an island; we can always pitch ideas to neighbors and extension workers or even hire consultants. Once you spend the money on the materials, make sure they are then installed correctly.

Fallen vine trellis

Faulty vine trellis posts.
Photo by Tremain Hatch

One of the pitfalls of new wineries is that the entrepreneur usually has little experience with vineyards when designing their first vineyard. Especially in these days of labor shortages, renovating a vineyard is expensive and absurd. If you have any questions, contact your local extension office. Extension trainers can provide research-based recommendations for trellis specifications.

As the old saying goes, there are no silly questions. Taking the time to ask a question can pay off in the long run. If you are a new grower and have no questions, you should share your plan with someone and ask them what pitfalls they see. Sharing information is a powerful tool that drives the industry forward.