The empty spaces in this vineyard are grafted vines that didn’t take. “A vineyard like this with a lot of holes has issues that have to be dealt with,” said Kevin Corliss.
Jerry Czebotar likens human productivity to a Concord vineyard’s productivity. “Half of my 100-acre vineyard was planted in the 1940s,” said the Pasco, Washington, grape grower. “As we get older—just like some of my vineyards—we don’t want to put out as much. The first 20 years, anybody can grow pretty good yields of Concord. But after 40 and 50 years, the vines can go into decline.”
Czebotar has focused on replacing vines instead of grafting or replanting the entire block as a way to keep yields up and the vineyard profitable. He rejuvenates his Concord vineyard mostly by doing “laydowns” (laying down and burying a cane so it will regrow into a new vine). But he also replaces vines within the existing vineyard when necessary.
He looks at every vine in every block before pruning, driving down the rows in a four-wheeler. “Anything that needs extra thought, I stop and prune it myself or do the laydown or whatever, and flag it so the pruning crew leaves it alone.” Czebotar will even prune out the mother vine to keep the crew from pruning where he doesn’t want them.
Establishing a new vine or laydown in an old vineyard is difficult, he admits. “When I do a laydown or plant a baby vine, I work in a lot of fertilizer to get the vine off to a good start.” He has found that prilled calcium nitrate works best, and he uses a tuna fish can to broadcast the fertilizer around the vine.
Weed control around the laydown or new vine is also important. He recommends that grow tubes be placed around the new vine before herbicide spraying takes place in the vineyard.
“My biggest advice is to stay up on the vines and keep them current,” Czebotar said. “Don’t let the skips go by.”
After spending 15 years on a grape harvester, he knows that it doesn’t take many skips—when the harvester conveyor belt goes dry—to have an economic impact on yields.
“If I can do it, I’ll always do a laydown instead of a new vine. Planting in a mature block is tough,” he said. But when he does resort to replanting a new vine, he’s found that he has a better take by planting in the fall instead of spring. He digs an 18-inch-deep hole to allow plenty of room for moisture around the roots.