Updated: Jul 9, 2020
When we last left our story about redeveloping a vineyard parcel, we had just removed the old vines and were collecting as many roots as we could before the soil was prepared for planting.
To give the vines the best start possible, the soil needs to be worked and cultivated to break up large clumps and provide a fine texture so there can be close contact between the soil and newly planted vine. For this, and especially because we have high-clay soils, the use of more large machinery is required!
First, the area was chiselled - this is the process of forcing tines through the soil, which break up compacted areas and large agglomerated clay chunks. It really is beneficial to do this in the Spring when the soil is still moist, as when these soils dry out, they're rock hard!
In this video, you can see the amount of tyre slip as the tractor struggles to pull the tines through the soil. It will need to make at least two passes through the block, with the second being perpendicular to the first, cross cultivating, to provide a uniform breaking/mixing job.
This also brings up more root pieces, which we try to collect as many of as possible. At this stage, the soil is opened up, but there are still large blocks of soil, so another pass is made with a rotary cultivator, which is a much larger version of the same sort of thing you might use in your home garden. Rotating bars mix up the soil, breaking down the large pieces, with a roller finishing off the pass, levelling and packing to create a firm surface. This particular tractor was equipped with a GPS unit to ensure that the passes were completely straight and parallel to the neighbouring vine rows, which was an aid when the new rows needed to be marked out.
For the slightly less than a hectare we were preparing, it took 5 hours for the chiselling and two for the rotary cultivator - all done before lunch, given the early start! Many thanks to our friends at Nature Languedoc, who did the soil preparation work!
Job done!! Stephan Picas of Nature Languedoc, Hélène Taillefer and Glen Creasy
From here, I marked out where the rows were going to go, putting place-holders for the end posts, ensuring that there will be enough headland for easy tractor and implement turning. This meant we were losing a little plantable area compared to the vineyard that was there before, but it reduces the amount of time for the tractor to move through the vineyard, and stress levels of the driver!
After booking the planting crew, delivery of the vines, from Pepinieres Bertrand, was arranged for the day before, storing the bags, each with 100 vines, in a cool, dark place until they were needed.
Planting day arrived early in the morning, greeting us with overcast conditions - perfect for the job! The crew starts from the first end-post position I established earlier, using specially-marked ropes to define where the rows will be (2.25 m apart) and where each vine will be planted in the row (one metre apart).
For this hand-planting method, the grafted vines have all of their roots trimmed off, so placing each vine in the ground is as simple as pushing a rod into the ground and inserting the vine.
It's important to ensure each vine is not planted too deeply, as if the graft union is at or below the soil surface, the scion wood can develop roots that eventually can take over from the rootstock - this eventually results in the rootstock dying, leaving an own-rooted vine. This defeats the purpose of grafting the vine, which is done to have a plant which is better adapted to the soil, and to avoid damage by the root-feeding insect, phylloxera.
With this method, our efficient crew completed planting the 1200 Grenache blanc and 2500 Chenin blanc vines in about four hours.
Being without any roots, the newly planted vines are very susceptible to drying out and dying - root growth needs to be successful if the shoots, which will start to grow quickly in our warm climate, are to survive. For this to happen, there needs to be good contact between the soil particles and the base of the vine - soil preparation helps to provide these small particles, but a generous dollop of water is needed to physically seat the soil closely around the vine. Fortunately, right after planting there was a very well timed rainfall, which provided over 30 mm of rain, followed by 84 mm five days later - perfect for giving the vines a good start to settling in to their new home!
In the next instalment of this story, we'll look at the vines starting to grow, and how we're setting up the vineyard infrastructure around them...
Until then, À votre santé !