21. May 2012 · Comments Off on Soil Analysis · Categories: Uncategorized

For a new commercial vineyard site, a formal soil analysis should be considered a necessity, not an option. Now, you may be thinking “That’s easy – I’ll take a few scoops of soil and send them to the local Ag extension office for analysis.” That’s what I initially thought. But that soil test barely “scratches the surface” (pun intended!) of what you really need to know. So – what IS a formal soil analysis?

The soil is arguably the single biggest factor in the success of growing grapes. There is a saying that you can grow grapes in any soil, and that may be true, but if the goal is to grow top quality vinifera grapes, you can’t do that in any old soil. A site analysis performed by my soils scientist (James Fisher of Soil Solutions LLC) took many factors into consideration, and produced a report that describes the site and the soil, how to prepare it for use as a vineyard, and what rootstocks are appropriate for the soil conditions. The cost for this service in in the thousands of dollars, but well worth the cost.

The process begins by identifying locations on the site to dig soil analysis pits. The location and number of pits is highly dependent on the size of the site and the terrain. For my 10 acre site, we dug a total of six pits. Using a small backhoe, each pit was dug to a depth of about six feet, and large enough for the soil scientist to climb into and work in the pit. The following is a list of some of the things are analyzed and documented:

Soil Horizons – Soil is typically structured in layers. These layers may help or impede the growth of the roots, affect water availability, water drainage, nutrient utilization and more.

Root penetration – The penetration of existing plant roots can be observed to determine the structure and compaction of the soil.

Rock / aggregate content – The amount and size of aggregate in the soil affects the water holding capacity of the soil.

Soil composition – Soil is classified into three types – clay, sand and loam. Most soils are mixture of these three types. The percentage of each type is determined for each horizon as this affect many decisions in the site preparation process and root stock type.

Soil mineral/nutrient content – The levels of nutrients in the soil is documented. This is used to determine soil amendments needed during the site preparation process and in subsequent years after planting the vines.

Organisms – The soil is tested for various microscopic life forms that can be detrimental to grape vines, most notably several types of nematodes.

My soils scientist prepared a detailed report documenting all of the above items, and made recommendations for site preparation, soil amendments, nematode remediation and suitable rootstocks. I believe that implementing these recommendations will have a significant positive impact on the yield and quality of the grapes that I plan to grow. The next post will discuss the recommendations and my progress in implementing the recommendations.

04. April 2012 · Comments Off on Searching for the perfect vineyard site · Categories: Uncategorized

Simply put, finding a suitable site that has the potential to produce quality grapes is difficult, at least in our area. Yes, you can plant vines anywhere, and they will probably grow. But will they produce quality fruit at a reasonable production cost? Probably not. I spent over three years searching for a site, and found four potential sites that were for sale. In the ideal world, a Berks County site would be a south facing hill, not too steep, soil with a good amount of rock/stone/aggregate content, not fertile, well drained, not in a valley, no surrounding tree lines, and most importantly, for sale at a reasonable price that fits your budget. If you are thinking about developing a vineyard, you ARE developing a comprehensive cost analysis/budget, aren’t you?

The best site I found (other than perfect sites that were not for sale!) was at auction. I, as well as others, rated it a 9.5 for Berks County, but I was outbid beyond my budget. A second site needed too much work on existing buildings and vineyard site preparation to be viable. The third site had high tension power lines running through the middle, creating right of way issues, restrictions on building locations, etc.

The site that I chose is probably a 7.5 to 8.0 rating for Berks County. Not ideal, but not bad. I decided that compromises needed to be made and to stop searching for the “Holy Grail”. Ideally, the slope would be steeper, the soil would have more aggregate, and there would be fewer trees. I believe that the most important decision I made was to have the site evaluated by soil scientist James Fisher and Penn State’s wine grape educator Mark Chien. They clearly told me the pros and cons of the site, the challenges I would face, and the measures I could take to improve the site. Their input was invaluable in making the final decision to buy the property. I highly recommend that anyone planning to develop a vineyard in Pennsylvania contact Mark Chien, and retain the services of a soil scientist to do a detailed soil study. Note that a proper, detailed soil study is MUCH more than just sending some soil samples in for lab analysis! The next post will discuss what’s involved in a detailed soil study and why it is so important.

Welcome to Oley Hills Vineyard. This site (both the web site and the vineyard site!) got started in the late winter of 2012. The web site will document the development of a new vineyard in southeastern Pennsylvania in the hills of the Oley Valley. During the past three or four years, I have found that there is a lot of information on the web regarding one aspect or another of developing a vineyard, but surprisingly little in terms of the complete chronology of developing a single site. My goal is to help (or scare away?) others who may have an interest in developing a new vineyard. What does it take, what must be evaluated, compromised and decided upon, and the challenges and rewards.