Water Management Tips For Eastern Vineyards

Traditionally, grape growers in the Midwest and Eastern U.S. have not really worried about water management in their vineyards. Because of the amount of rain that falls east of the Rocky Mountains during the growing season, growers have always assumed that their vineyards had adequate water in the soil (or more!), and in most years they were right.

But as more research has been done concerning water use by vineyards in this part of the country, we are starting to understand that water management is something that can have a significant impact on vine health and fruit quality. For example, in a past study in the Finger Lakes, Cornell University researchers found that:

  • Irrigated vines had fruit with higher Brix and yeast available nitrogen in dry years;
  • Bud injury was reduced in the irrigated vines in the winter compared to those that were not irrigated; and
  • Vines that were irrigated in dry years had higher yields, when irrigation wasn’t used at all, than those that did not receive irrigation.
  • In many years, Eastern growing regions will experience periods of at least a few weeks with high temperatures and little, if any, rainfall. Combine this with the fact that this seems to happen when vine canopies are fully developed, and need high amounts of water, and vines run the risk of going into drought stress.
  • Equipment such as pressure bombs and porometers are available which can directly measure how much water stress a vine is under, but these can be somewhat expensive, can have a steep learning curve, and may take more time to use than most growers have during the season.

Fortunately, there is a quick, low-tech test to get a “feel” for whether or not a vine is water stressed (see “Getting A ‘Feel’ For Water Stress”). This test works because, as vines start to undergo water stress, their stomates start to close, which reduces the amount of water that moves through the plant. This water movement, called evaporative cooling, helps to keep the vine cool in order for its physiological processes to work properly, but under water stress this cooling effect is reduced, and the leaves heat up.

Stress Reducers

If symptoms of water stress are found in the vineyard, growers have a couple of management options available to them:

  • Irrigation — This might be the best “management” option, but many vineyards in the East do not have irrigation. Guidance for irrigation use in the East is not as developed as in the West, but fully developed Concord vines, which have large canopies, might use about 1 acre-inch of water per week (about 27,000 gallons per acre) on a “normal” summer day in New York. Vines with smaller canopies, such as vinifera varieties on VSP, might use 50% to 60% of that amount.
  • Eliminate weed competition — This tactic can be very effective, as living ground covers can compete strongly with grapevine roots for water and nutrients. Eliminating weed and cover crop competition by herbicide application or cultivation for one month can be the equivalent of applying 1.5 inches to 2 inches of water by irrigation.
  • Apply mulch to row middles — Unrolling round hay bales down row middles can both help to reduce competition from weeds and cover crops and help preserve soil moisture. It also has the added benefit of adding organic matter to soils where that may be an issue.

The use of these tools to reduce water stress is most important in the post-veraison period, as fruit quality can be seriously compromised due to reduced photosynthetic activity and other metabolic processes that produce many of the compounds that are important in juice and wine quality. However, mild or moderate water stress may actually be desirable before veraison in high vigor situations, in order to reduce shoot growth.

Most of the models looking at future climate changes in this part of the country predict greater extremes in precipitation in the future. If this is the case, growers’ ability to manage their vineyards’ water status may mean the difference between having a vineyard that struggles to produce an acceptable crop and one with high-quality sustainable fruit production.

I want to thank Dr. Alan Lakso, professor of plant physiology at Cornell University, for contributing information for this article.

Getting A “Feel” For Water Stress

The following steps to determining the level of water stress in grapevines are adapted from Alan Lakso’s “Getting A ‘Feel’ for Water Stress” in the July 2002 issue of Finger Lakes Vineyard Notes:

Step 1: Do the test at mid-day or in the afternoon of a sunny, calm day.
Step 2: Take a few large leaves and lay them in the sun. Feel them every few minutes for 15 to 20 minutes to get a feel for how hot they can get.
Step 3: Feel shaded leaves on the canopy exterior as a reference (they should be near the air temperature).
Step 4: Now feel larger, sun-exposed leaves on the canopy exterior between your thumb and fingers. Exposed leaves will be a little warmer even without any stress, but will be significantly warmer if the vine is water stressed.

Topics: , ,

Leave a Reply

Grapes Stories
Grapes
September 26, 2017
New England Researchers Study Viability of Seedless Table Grapes Varieties
University of New Hampshire project looks at growing systems, varieties to determine what type of production would be suited for cooler climates. Read More
Grapes
September 12, 2017
Heat Wave Leads to Early Winegrape Harvest in California’s Sonoma County
Ask any winegrape grower to describe the grape harvest in Sonoma County and you typically hear “harvest time is like Read More
Grapes
September 8, 2017
Spotted Lanternfly Population Large This Year
Thanks to mild winter, numbers for the pest are growing, especially in southeast Pennsylvania. Read More
glass of red wine
Grapes
August 30, 2017
ASEV Confirms Enologist as President
Washington State University’s James Harbertson to lead American Society for Enology and Viticulture (ASEV) as the 2017-2018 president. Read More
Grapes
August 26, 2017
Ode to Being a Part-time Farmer [Opinion]
I work with many grape growers in Virginia. Some of them work full time at a single vineyard operation. Many Read More
GenNext Growers
August 8, 2017
Winegrape Society Awards $100,000 in Scholarships
American Society for Enology and Viticulture bestows awards at its 68th national conference. Read More
Grapes
July 7, 2017
California Winegrowers Applaud $5 Million to Battle Disease
Governor approves Pierce’s Disease Control Program money for the first time since 2011. Read More
Grapes
July 3, 2017
Climate Doesn’t Weigh Heavy On Ste. Michelle Wine Estates
While warming trend has been a part of past few seasons, the vineyard is incorporating new technologies to grape growing versus altering production techniques. Read More
Grapes
July 3, 2017
How to Handle Warming Pacific Northwestern Vineyards
The warming temperatures in the Pacific Northwest are well-suited for red winegrape production, but other changes in viticulture practices must be made. Read More
GenNext Growers
June 29, 2017
Cornell Graduate Student Earns Grape Disease Research
Doctoral candidate recognized by American Society of Enology and Viticulture for work studying sour rot pathogens. Read More
Grapes
June 29, 2017
Cornell University Wants You to Name That Grape
Contest to name cold-tolerant variety a seedless ‘Concord’-type berry runs through July 31. Read More
Grapes
June 26, 2017
Washington Grape Grower Battles New Threat
Apples, cherries, and pears are also threatened by Tobacco Ringspot Virus, a pathogen never before seen in Washington state. Read More
Food Safety
June 21, 2017
Organization Seeks Winegrape Exemption Produce Safety Rule
California Association of Winegrape Growers says because winegrapes are grown for processing, they should be exempt from produce safety rule. Read More
Grapes
June 5, 2017
California Winegrowers Award Scholarships to Employees’ Kids
California Association of Winegrape Growers Foundation awards $30,000 in student scholarships. Read More
Grapes
June 5, 2017
Getting to the Bottom of Berry Scarring
It’s a costly defect, but learning what causes berry scarring can help you prevent it. Read More
The Latest
Grapes
October 13, 2017
Fairgrounds Host California Fire Evacuee…
Gallo will contribute $1 million to fire recovery effort and will match employee donations two-for-one. Read More
Grapes
October 10, 2017
Wildfires Hit California Wine Country
California Gov. Jerry Brown declares state of emergency for northern counties impacted by flames. Read More
Grapes
October 7, 2017
Tips for Effective Vine Mealybug Managem…
Scouting, trapping, and mating disruption can help prevent populations of this pest increasing in your vineyard. Read More
Grapes
September 26, 2017
New England Researchers Study Viability …
University of New Hampshire project looks at growing systems, varieties to determine what type of production would be suited for cooler climates. Read More
Grapes
September 12, 2017
Heat Wave Leads to Early Winegrape Harve…
Ask any winegrape grower to describe the grape harvest in Sonoma County and you typically hear “harvest time is like Read More
Grapes
September 8, 2017
Spotted Lanternfly Population Large This…
Thanks to mild winter, numbers for the pest are growing, especially in southeast Pennsylvania. Read More
Grapes
August 30, 2017
ASEV Confirms Enologist as President
Washington State University’s James Harbertson to lead American Society for Enology and Viticulture (ASEV) as the 2017-2018 president. Read More
Grapes
August 26, 2017
Ode to Being a Part-time Farmer [Opinion…
I work with many grape growers in Virginia. Some of them work full time at a single vineyard operation. Many Read More
GenNext Growers
August 8, 2017
Winegrape Society Awards $100,000 in Sch…
American Society for Enology and Viticulture bestows awards at its 68th national conference. Read More
Grapes
July 7, 2017
California Winegrowers Applaud $5 Millio…
Governor approves Pierce’s Disease Control Program money for the first time since 2011. Read More
Grapes
July 3, 2017
Climate Doesn’t Weigh Heavy On Ste. Mich…
While warming trend has been a part of past few seasons, the vineyard is incorporating new technologies to grape growing versus altering production techniques. Read More
Grapes
July 3, 2017
How to Handle Warming Pacific Northweste…
The warming temperatures in the Pacific Northwest are well-suited for red winegrape production, but other changes in viticulture practices must be made. Read More
GenNext Growers
June 29, 2017
Cornell Graduate Student Earns Grape Dis…
Doctoral candidate recognized by American Society of Enology and Viticulture for work studying sour rot pathogens. Read More
Grapes
June 29, 2017
Cornell University Wants You to Name Tha…
Contest to name cold-tolerant variety a seedless ‘Concord’-type berry runs through July 31. Read More
Grapes
June 26, 2017
Washington Grape Grower Battles New Thre…
Apples, cherries, and pears are also threatened by Tobacco Ringspot Virus, a pathogen never before seen in Washington state. Read More
Food Safety
June 21, 2017
Organization Seeks Winegrape Exemption P…
California Association of Winegrape Growers says because winegrapes are grown for processing, they should be exempt from produce safety rule. Read More
Grapes
June 5, 2017
California Winegrowers Award Scholarship…
California Association of Winegrape Growers Foundation awards $30,000 in student scholarships. Read More
Grapes
June 5, 2017
Getting to the Bottom of Berry Scarring
It’s a costly defect, but learning what causes berry scarring can help you prevent it. Read More