By Rebecca Mercer Leduc
Many of you have asked about what’s happening in the vineyard at different stages in the season, and maybe this blog post can help demystify the grape growing process for the wine connoisseurs and the curious among you.
So, what is a cover crop? Well, this year it’s a mix of oat, wheat, barley, and common vetch, which will be seeded in every row of our 26 acres of vines. Over the course of the winter and next spring, the growth of the crop will help to produce organic matter, increasing the biomass and fertility of the soil and helping to prevent erosion.
The vetch, a legume (beans, lentils, and soy are all examples of common legumes) which produces a delicate, purple flower in the springtime, fixes nitrogen from the air into the soil, allowing the root systems of the three grains to grow deep. I just learned from Bastien that one single oat grain can produce 600 kilometers (372.8 miles) of roots. How amazing is that?! As they grow, the oat, wheat, and barley roots break up compacted earth and allow water to penetrate further into the ground. And when it doesn’t rain here from early June until late October, this water retention is really, really important!
Viticulture, or grape growing, is a cyclical process, and if we consider the grape harvest to be the end of that process, seeding a cover crop is more or less the beginning. This year’s harvest began on September 10 and ended on September 24. These dates will vary year to year, depending on a number of factors, the most significant of which is the weather. Once the grapes are picked, we breathe a big sigh of relief and then begin looking ahead to the winter months of caring for the vines and the soil.
With any luck, we’ll get some much needed rain in a few days, and those seeds will start to germinate.
P.S. I am not an agrologist, or a biologist, or a horticulturist, or any other -ist for that matter, so if you have questions on the soil science by all means leave a comment and I’ll defer to the master (Bastien) for more information.