When I first planted
vineyards I resolved not to do any experimenting on my small plot,
just follow the tried and true methods. After all, I thought, modern
viticulture is hundreds of years old and must have adapted the best
systems by now. I quickly discovered that there was no tried and true
method and if there was, it would most likely be wrong. Faced with
replanting our vineyards because of phylloxera, I had to face up to
the controversy over vine spacing.
Robert Mondavi, long a leader in the marketing of wine, is also very
influential in vineyard practices. His French partners in Opus One
grow all their vineyards in Bordeaux at one meter spacing between
vines and one meter between rows; about three feet by three feet.
As an experiment, Mondavi planted his new vineyard at Opus One at
this same very close spacing of about three feet between vines. He
keeps the extra foliage down by hedging four or five times a season
(using a machine to cut back the shoots). No hedging is required in
Bordeaux; rather the Bordeaux vines are often self-supporting and
open to the sun. They are planted in chalky, shallow soil and are
not over-vigorous. The Opus One vineyard on the other hand is planted
in deep clay soil near the river, so the roots grow down deep and
invigorate the vines.
Because of the publicity from Mondavis close spaced experiment,
even though the experiment was still in progress, many growers assumed
that was this way to go. They also planted close spaced vines and
actually got extra production per acre the first year or two. Many
other vintners followed suit so that a large portion of Napas
new vineyards are now close spaced, three or four feet between vines.
Dr. Smart, a well known vineyard consultant from Australia, teaches
that after the initial year or two of extra production from close
spaced vines that the production is apt to be reduced in later years,
less per acre than one would get from wider spaced vines. And of course
the extra canopy shading reduces the wine quality. So, close spacing
risks the double problemlower quality and lower quantity. Of
course, the close spacing may be okay in the sparse soil of the Carneros
region just as it is in Bordeaux.
The fear of lower quality from three or four feet vine spacing convinced
us of the need to replant Jarvis vineyards six feet between vines.