A mobile vineyard. Can it be done?

Bonsai grapevine (derived from image on drvino.com)

Bonsai grapevine (derived from image on drvino.com)

I recently re-connected with Joe, a fraternity brother. Over lunch at the Atheneum, he mused about wanting a small home vineyard, but having very limited space.

I thought of the three Aglianico vines in 5-gallon planters in my back yard.

I proposed that if he were to put in five goblet-trained vines in 5-gallon (or bigger) planters, he could make a few gallons of wine each year.

In effect, he could have a mobile vineyard – one he could take with him, should he move.

Now, the extreme of this concept is the Bonsai Grapevine sold on the internet. I have always wondered if such a plant could produce fruit. It seemed to me, that the clusters in the on-line photos seemed rather artificial-looking.

My friend, Jeff Miller (who gave me the Aglianico benchgrafts), is constantly amazed at the progress of my potted vines whenever he visits or I send him some photos. He insists that there is not enough soil in 5-gallon pots to support vine development, let alone fruiting. However, my potted Aglianicos are going through veraison:

Veraison in potted Aglianico vine.

Veraison in potted Aglianico vine.

Because these vines are really my back-ups, I have been fertilizing them and supplementing their soil to make sure they are healthy – should I need them. The fact that they are fruiting is a surprise to all.

Nevertheless, I want to see how far I can push this. I want to see how small of a planter (and how little soil) is necessary to sustain development and fruiting. I have a small row of Fiano and Sangiovese grafts behind the garage that will help in this pseudo-hydroponic experiment.

I bought ten benchgrafts of each variety to experiment with. I wanted to see how they do in this climate. Water costs where I live are one quarter of what they are at the vineyard. So, I put in some t-posts, ran some wires and lined up potted vines under the wires.

The Fiano went into 2-gallon planters. The Sangiovese was put into 1-gallon containers (I ran out of the larger ones).

The video, below, shows that the size of planter has a great impact on a plant’s ability to thrive. It appears that these 2-gallon planters can sustain a vine and allow it to at least flower – assuming ample water, fertilizer and other supplements. However, a modulating factor is the intrinsic vigor of the particular cultivar. For instance, Montepulciano, in my vineyard, is a bit more robust than the Aglianico was at this age. Perhaps this is why it can do better in half-gallon planters than the Sangiovese does in one-gallon pots

As an aside: I had hypothesized that a shoot becomes a fruiting cane (and flowers) if it comes off a lignified cane or spur (i.e. one that is at least a year-old). The fact that four of the Fiano vines are beginning to flower seems to disprove this hypothesis…

My initial goal was to train up the vines to their first bifurcation and put them in the vineyard in two years. I want them to develop more and maybe give some fruit in 2012 so I can decide if I want to put in another set of vines at the vineyard – at a much greater cost of irrigation and maintenance.

Interesting thought: what are the terroir factors in a mobile, or hydroponic vineyard?

Stay tuned.



Father, husband, physician, amateur guitarist, wine lover, wine writer, wine grower and wine maker trying to do it all within eye shot of downtown Los Angeles. http://www.shutupandmakewine.com http://twitter.com/Dr_Arthur_P
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