These

These “super big” vines were planted in an Oregon vineyard earlier this year.

Neil Hauff

Imagine the labor savings if you could plant and establish a new vineyard without staking, tying, training, suckering, or using protective cartons or tubes for the young vines. A vineyard development consultant is doing just that, planting “super big” vines while claiming to save super big money.

In the last few years, a handful of California and ­Oregon grape growers have begun planting tall—four to five feet—potted grapevines, a practice that started in Germany about 20 years ago, says Bill Henri of the Wm. Henri Development Company.

Henri describes the super big vine as “a greenhouse-grown bench graft,” but instead of a twelve-inch piece of rootstock (eight inches of rootstock in the ground with the graft union four to six inches above ground), the graft union is three feet off the ground. In the nursery, the tall vine is already attached to a stake and looks like a tree rose, with the graft union high in the air, he said during a phone interview with the Good Fruit Grower.

Last June, Henri planted a new, 150-acre vineyard with the tall grape plants in Oregon’s Umpqua Valley, and he just finished prepping ground for another 200 acres of vines to be planted in the same manner. As a private consultant specializing in vineyard development, Henri has been involved in planting vineyards in Washington, ­Oregon, and California for 30 years, and also has winemaking experience. Henri has offices in Napa, California, and Roseburg, Oregon.

He sources what he calls the super big vines from Frank Lopez, a custom-order California nurseryman. Lopez was nursery manager for Sonoma Grapevines before striking out on his own.

Another California nursery that produces a 42-inch-tall vine is Duarte Nursery, headquartered near Modesto. Duarte markets their big vines under the UberVine name. While there is a big difference in price, the UberVine saves a year in vine establishment costs and might have particular potential in regions with short growing seasons, like Oregon and parts of Washington, said Duarte’s Michael Vietti, in a video on Duarte’s Web site.

“From the moment you plant the big vine, you’re already trained up the stake and growing down the wire,” said Henri. “There’s no stake pounding, tying, training, or suckering—that’s all done in the nursery. And the vine has two to three times the root mass as a regular potted bench graft, with more carbohydrate reserves in the wood.” He adds that once you dig a hole, put in the vine, and the clip the stake to the wire, “you’re good to go.”

One major advantage is that the big vines don’t need protective tubes or cartons because there’s no green tissue within reach of rodents or herbicide sprays, he said. “The green tissue is 34 to 36 inches off the ground, so you can spray Roundup [glyphosate] with a conventional sprayer the day after planting. No hand hoeing around young vines is necessary.”

Henri also has found that the plants are not as sensitive if water is lacking for a brief period compared with smaller bench graft plants that have a smaller root mass.

While Henri has only used the big vines on a rootstock and scion combination, he believes self-rooted vines grown in the same manner would work well under ­Washington’s growing conditions. The nursery would provide a tall grape plant grown in the greenhouse, it just wouldn’t be grafted, he said.

“You still have the chance that freezing temperatures could kill the vine down to the roots,” he said, noting that retraining would then be needed to bring canes up from the ground.

Economics

Henri explained that with the big vines he is trading nursery dollars for farming dollars. “But it turns out that it’s saving me big money.”

He’s been buying the super big potted vines for $4.75 per vine, about two dollars more than traditional bench graft plants. The Oregon vineyard he planted earlier this year had 622 vines per acre, so the big vines added $1,250 per acre to planting costs, which he believes is minimal compared to the big savings that come from reduced labor needed to establish the vineyard.

Henri estimated he saves between $4,000 to $5,000 an acre in labor costs over several years. “That’s $600,000 saved for the 150-acre vineyard I recently planted.”

The super big vines will produce enough of a crop in the second year to justify harvest and begin returning money on the grower’s investment, he added.

Future trend

Henri believes the super vines will be the next big change that takes place in the wine grape industry. He pointed out that California growers used to graft in the field—until they figured the full costs of grafts that didn’t take and lost production and realized it was more ­efficient to buy bench grafts from nurseries.

“This is a more efficient and more cost-effective way to establish a vineyard,” he proclaimed, adding that a large grape operation in Delano, California, has started using the super vines.

“This industry doesn’t make changes unless it improves quality or is economically driven,” he said.

Henri, who is willing to share his big vine experience with others, can be contacted at (707) 227-4480. His ­e-mail is billhenri@sbcglobal.net.