Online tool helps match wine grape varieties to vineyard sites

Virginia’s wine industry generates $747 million for the state’s economy. According to a 2012 report released by Gov. Bob McDonnell’s office, that figure is more than twice a 2005 estimate of how much the industry would grow in seven years.

newspaperBut long before grapes are turned into wine, growers must consider a staggering amount of variables in deciding where to plant vines and which varieties are best-suited to a particular soil.

Growers in the eastern United States soon will be able to use a Web-based tool to help evaluate land for vineyard sustainability. It’s based on a similar, Virginia-specific application developed by researchers in Virginia Tech’s Center for Geospatial Information Technology and viticulturists at Alson H. Smith Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center near Winchester.

The Virginia Viticulture Suitability Investigative Tool ( considers features of potential vineyard sites such as soil type, drainage capability and nutrient status and helps users evaluate grape varieties for compatibility.

The ability to evaluate land before planting matters to growers because topography, which affects the local climate, and soils are key to both consistency and quality of grape production.

The Eastern U.S. Vineyard Site Evaluation Tool is funded by the National Institute for Food and Agriculture’s Specialty Crops Research Initiative through a grant to Virginia Tech and six other institutions. The application represents one part of the $3.8 million grant that includes research initiatives in variety evaluation, grapevine management practices, wine marketing studies and outreach and extension education.

“This is a great tool for tech-savvy growers to use when planting grapes,” said Tony Banks, a commodity marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “It also could be utilized by a home gardener who wants to plant grapes.”

According to horticulturist Mark Viette of Augusta County, only a few grape vines are needed to grow grapes in a backyard setting. Viette appears on Real Virginia, Virginia Farm Bureau’s weekly television program.

“Grapes like full sun, and the existing clay soil in Virginia is excellent for growing grapes,” Viette said.

Grapes grow best on a multi-strand trellis system in an area that is 25 to 50 feet long, with each plant spaced 6 to 8 feet apart, he said. Drip irrigation systems, organic plant food and organic insect sprays can help make grape-growing more successful. Vines should be pruned in February.

Virginia is ranked fifth nationwide for wine grape production and has held that ranking since 2009.


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