High-tech row orientation
Five row orientations were used at Col Solare to find the one that provided the best protection from sunburn.
The vineyard layout, though unintentional, appears as rays of the sun, radiating from the winery that is situated at the top of the property in the northeast corner behind the short rows.
The design and planting of vines at Col Solare winery is a blend of Old World and New World philosophies, says Dr. Russell Smithyman, director of research for Washington State's Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. The tight spacing comes from the European style of vineyards, while the row orientation results from computer modeling.
Vines at the Col Solare vineyard are planted three feet apart with seven feet between rows to maximize the number of vines per acre while maintaining decent tonnage, Smithyman told growers and vintners attending the annual summer grape tour in August sponsored by the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers. The high-density spacing, similar to that used by the Antinori family in Tuscany, more than doubles the number of vines per acre in comparison with most Washington vineyards.
Since the mid-1990s, Ste. Michelle has crafted red wines in partnership with Italy's famed House of Antinori. With panoramic views of Washington's Red Mountain, Col Solare, which means "shining hill" in Italian, opened in 2007. Full harvest of the vineyard will begin in 2010.
Five different row orientations were used throughout the 28-acre vineyard in efforts to minimize sunburn. To find the optimum orientation, Ste. Michelle's precision agricultural specialist Jennifer Smithyman devised a computer model from software used by video game designers to create realistic shadows. The model allowed her to account for the sun's changing position through the day and season and find the row orientation that would provide the most shading from mid-July through mid-August, the hottest part of the summer, and during the hottest part of the day (from 2 p.m. to about 5 p.m.). With the model, she could also factor in the prevailing west-southwest winds that can move the canopy and expose clusters.
The model identified the ideal location for Cabernet Sauvignon at 223° off north in a southwesterly direction, Russ Smithyman said. "Think of a big clock that has 360 degrees going around it; 270° would be in a north-east direction," he said, adding that varieties that could handle higher solar loads, like Syrah and Merlot, were positioned more north and south, while those like Malbec, which need more sun protection, were oriented more east-west.
The vineyard has 26 blocks planted to different varieties, clones, and row orientations. One Cabernet Sauvignon clone was planted within each orientation to allow comparisons between different orientations and determine the optimum for different varieties and clones.
An unintentional byproduct of planting Col Solare in a multitude of orientations is the aesthetics of the vineyard. Smithman said that the vineyard radiates out from the winery facility, looking like rays of sun when viewed from the winery patio. "But by no means was that our goal when we were designing it."
Design of the Col Solare vineyard represents years of experience, using the best available technology and matching the varieties to the site to achieve optimum quality from the grapes. The vineyard is meant to be one of the main sources of grapes for Col Solare wines, Smithyman said. "No expense was escaped when it was planted."