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Vineyard field day is a social event mixed with science

Every year Southern Oregon grape growers gather to traipse through vineyards, talk with scientists and enjoy each other’s company. It’s the annual vineyard field day — always hot, always sunny and always productive.

Late last month about 70 grape growers and winemakers met up to catch up on the latest research.

“The field day gives us an opportunity to showcase what we’re doing on the research side, and just as important is getting the growers together to socialize and build a community around the industry,” said Alexander Levin, OSU viticulturist at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center.

On the agenda for the 2019 field day were visits to five new Southern Oregon vineyards, an update on smoke impact and a new test for grapevine red blotch virus.

While many of Southern Oregon’s vineyards were planted between 1970 and 2010, there are still new vineyards going in. It’s important to keep up to date because the viticulture landscape is always changing as innovative techniques emerge and new technologies come available.

Vineyards are expensive to start up, and can run $35,000 to $45,000 per acre according to Jason Cole, with Pacific Crest Vineyard Services. There’s the cost of materials and labor for surveys, tests and assessments, preparing soil, installing irrigation and trellises and planting the vines. Wind machines, often needed for frost protection, can cost from $20,000 to $35,000 each, and a 7.5-foot-high deer fence runs about $15 per linear foot. Annual maintenance can run from $15,000 to $20,000, and a first harvest is likely to be three years down the road.

Pacific Crest manages the vineyards at Troon Winery, so Cole was on hand to host the 2019 vineyard day along with operations manager Craig Camp and winemaker Nate Wall. It’s a good year to visit Troon, because the farm and vineyard had recently been Demeter-certified as biodynamic.

“We’ve seen immediate response from the vines in terms of vigor, health and balance with biodynamics; it’s longterm repeated application of our biodynamic preparations and compost to build soil health, microbial diversity of bacteria and fungus, and we’ll see the full benefit over time,” explained Wall.

A big factor in planning vineyards is vine row spacing and trellising that allow for machine hedging, tillage and even machine harvesting — all in evidence on the 47-acre Hummingbird Estate vineyard in west Medford designed by Chris Hubert of Results Partners. The tasting room, in the 1920s era show house once owned by Alfred Carpenter of Dunbar Farms and Rocky Knoll Wines, will open mid-September.

Next up on the 2019 vineyard field day was a tour of the new experimental and demonstration vineyards at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, where Achala KC and Alexander Levin of OSU have new experimental vineyards, and Master Gardeners have established a fourth vineyard to teach workshops in vineyard planting and management.

KC, OSU plant pathologist, calls her vineyard the “disease vineyard” because in it she’ll test for and propagate grapevine pathogens in chardonnay and pinot noir. KC grew excited as she described a release of insect vectors that would infect her 150 vines. Her newest research concerns the trunk diseases that flourish when a vine is nicked during pruning or weed control.

Levin’s new vineyard is a triumph of irrigation control and is designed to test irrigation practices and clone selection in a vineyard that has hundreds of five-vine segments, each with its own water management controls. Levin specializes in vine water stress, and this vineyard will prove its value as climate change continues to disrupt the weather conditions local growers have become accustomed to.

Glenn McGourty, winegrowing and plant science advisor for the University of California Cooperative Extension is a regular SOREC guest, because growing conditions in the Northern California vineyards where McGourty works are similar to those of Southern Oregon. This year McGourty spoke of smoke impact on wine grapes, work that complements Barrel 42 winemaker Nichole Schulte, who presented earlier this year to Southern Oregon wine grape growers.

And almost as a special treat, USDA-ARS research plant pathologist (virology) and OSU faculty member Bob Martin demonstrated a quick and easy test for grapevine red blotch virus that used every day, commonly available lab instruments and materials. Grapevine red blotch virus is found in western state vineyards, where it reduces grapevine vigor and yield. Martin’s demonstration showed that test results are available within 30 minutes at a cost of approximately $2.

“The most important workshop we have every year is the annual vineyard day — being able to go out and look at everybody else’s vineyard, and listen to the people who have the most experience, ask good questions, find out answers,” said John Pratt, president of the Rogue Valley Winegrowers Association. “For me, I love this opportunity.”

Vineyard field days are sponsored by RVWA and the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center. For more information about RVWA, see RVWinegrowers.org.

For more information about establishing a vineyard, see the OSU website at https://extension.oregonstate.edu or sign up for a Master Gardener vineyard class at SOREC, 569 Hanley Road, Central Point.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.

photo by Maureen Flanagan Battistella Jason Cole, Pacific Crest Vineyard Services, explains how he planned out the new vineyards at Troon.
photo by Maureen Flanagan Battistella Troon Vineyards’ winemaker, Nate Wall, talks biodynamics.