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The Washington wine industry is in the process of learning about row orientation and matching aspect with variety. Sunburned fruit can be a problem in vineyards with north-south rows, especially those with westerly winds. But with many vineyards on a sout

The Washington wine industry is in the process of learning about row orientation and matching aspect with variety. Sunburned fruit can be a problem in vineyards with north-south rows, especially those with westerly winds. But with many vineyards on a sout

When Tedd Wildman began planting Stone Tree Vineyard, he had one main goal. He wanted the vineyard to be uniform, with every vine precisely spaced, looking exactly like the next.

Vineyards with uniform spacing, trellis materials, and row placement are less likely to be damaged from tractors and equipment hitting a misplaced or wrong-angled stake or end post. But more importantly, vineyard uniformity lends to more efficient use of labor, accurate crop estimation, efficient spray coverage, and consistent fruit quality.

"As we move to the next generation of mechanization and robotics, uniformity will be so much more important," Wildman said, noting that there are tools on the horizon that have the possibility of scanning the vineyard to estimate crop, identify and make pruning cuts, perform selective spraying tasks, and more.

Wildman started planting in 2000, and recently finished the last block of his vineyard situated on the Wahluke Slope in Mattawa, Washington. He used Global Positioning Systems to grid the vineyard and lay out precise rows and spacing. With GPS, growers don’t find themselves in the middle or ends of the vineyard with uneven point rows that can be hard to farm, he said.

The GPS vineyard grid was overlaid with soil maps to group similar soil types into manageable units for more uniform irrigation scheduling.

"It seems like most of industry likes to put crops in huge, rectangular blocks," he said. "As grape growers, we often follow other crops and must live with the history and legacy of how the parcels were laid out years ago."

Although large blocks reduce the number of tractor turns at the end of rows, they can be difficult to manage when the water-holding capacity of the soil differs. He encourages growers to consider how to maximize efficiency yet create uniform fruit quality when laying out parcels.

"My advice to new growers who are planting is not to paint yourself in a corner," Wildman said. "Leave yourself plenty of options so that you can adapt to future tools and needs."