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Virginia Tech helps independent grape growers in the Commonwealth assess, manage vineyards

winemakers virginia

There are several Virginia Tech resources, including an online vineyard site assessment and management tool called Geovine, available to those interested in growing grapes for winemaking. Pictured here is a research vineyard at the Alson H. Smith Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Winchester, Virginia.

Michael and Gerri Fritze have been avid home winemakers for seven years. Taking what they considered as the next step in their winemaking adventure, the couple bought a farm in Waterford last December and established Quartz Creek Vineyards LLC.

The Fritzes credit Geovine, a vineyard site assessment and management tool developed by Virginia Tech’s Center for Geospatial Information Technology, with helping them find an appropriate property for their vineyard.

“From Geovine we learned that our soils were well draining and appropriate for planting vines,” he said.

The Virginia Wine Board funded Geovine as part of the Virginia Vineyards Portal project. Some of the information provided is based upon research supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture under Agreement No. 2010-51181-21599 (2010-2015).

 

Geovine includes a map editor that can create boundaries, a dedicated reports page, a way for users to organize multiple sites, and tutorials. By completing the online survey, the user receives a site evaluation report that includes soil, climate, elevation, slope, and aspect data; an indication of rocks in the physical area; topographic moisture potential; and additional information on grapevine climate/maturity, land cover, and land surface forms.

Since purchasing Quartz Creek Vineyards, the Fritzes sought subsequent testing at the Virginia Tech Soil Testing Lab affiliated with Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Department of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences in Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“The results showed the pH levels were in an excellent range for planting vines,” Michael Fritze said. “This was important because it meant that we would not have to make any serious changes or ameliorate our fields with lime as some other vineyards have had to do before planting can begin.”

The Fritzes will be planting three acres of vines next spring — one acre each of cabernet franc, merlot, and petit verdot.

Francis Lazarus from Spring House Vineyard in Loudoun County also used Geovine to be sure that grapes would grow on land he was planning to buy.

“The evaluation was positive and helped me make the decision to purchase the property,” Lazarus said. “I was most interested in the slopes of the property and the water available in the soil. The property has no well, and irrigation could be an issue. I was surprised that I got such a full evaluation from remote sensing and very happy to learn so much about the property so quickly.”

“Virginia Tech welcomes the opportunity to collaborate with the Virginia Wine Board in its goal to promote the interests of vineyards and wineries in the commonwealth through research and education,” said Peter Sforza, director for the Center for Geospatial Information Technology, which is affiliated with the College of Natural Resources and Environment.

“Launched as a beta site, the Center for Geospatial Information Technology continues to update Geovine with expanded geospatial analysis and capabilities as they become available,” Sforza added.

The Fritzes and Lazarus learned about Geovine from Beth Sastre, a commercial horticulturist with the Loudoun County office of Virginia Cooperative Extension.

“I had no connection with Virginia Tech before my association with the Extension folks,” Lazarus said. “They are terrific assets for beginners like myself, and both Beth Sastre and Tremain Hatch have become good friends and very trusted colleagues. I can always count on their help, and their advice has been invaluable.”

Hatch is a research associate with Viticulture Research and Extension at the Alson H. Smith Jr. Agricultural and Research Extension Center in Winchester.

Geovine is just one of the ways Virginia Tech is helping to grow the industry, said Tony Wolf, professor of viticulture and director of the Alson H. Smith Jr. Agricultural and Research Extension Center. “Our center is dedicated to educating commercial grape growers. We provide them with information through workshops, short courses, field meetings, and a variety of written media, and train in-service and Extension faculty agents who can help them with grape-related problems.”

 
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