Worse than expected

Five back-up vines.

Five back-up vines.

Last week, I had to part with my oldest back up Montepulciano and Aglianico vines.

Recently, I proposed a way to plant vines in large pots. I had written about keeping vines in pots several times. I entertained the idea of a mobile, or hydroponic vineyard. Additionally, I wanted to see how Fiano would perform in my area before putting vines in the ground at the vineyard.

Somewhere in one of those blog posts, I brought up the fact that this approach is not meant to be a long-term solution because, sooner or later, the root system is bound to outgrow the planter.

For that reason, I thought it was time to move my vines into larger planters. Unfortunately, while attempting to put one of the Aglianico back ups into a larger pot, I saw just how much its 1103P rootstock had grown.

As I extricated the first Aglianico vine out of its old pot, the cartoon sound effect of screeching tires went through my mind. These vines would struggle for one more year and after that, who knows…

I abandoned my plan to move all five vines into larger planters and decided that they need to be planted in the ground if they are to live.

Aglianico root ball. Photo: Tom Marble.

Aglianico root ball. Photo: Tom Marble.

Luckily, I’ve made the acquaintance of an architect who lives across the Arroyo from the vineyard and has caught the home wine growing bug. We’ve met, looked at his site, and speculated about his possibilities. I gave him some extra Montepulcianos I could not foresee using.

I called Tom and offered him these vines – which he was eager to take. We were able to successfully place them in his Volvo SUV and off they went to their new home.

Poignantly enough, the Aglianico vines were a gift to me from Jeff Miller, who had some extra benchgrafts he could not use in 2009. Now, with a little luck, Tom will be able to make half a gallon of Aglianico in 2012. He also has seven Montepulciano vines (two different clones) to play and practice with.

But back to my idea of a “mobile” potted vineyard:

It’s clear that the idea of this being a successful endeavor is overly optimistic. The three Aglianicos were able to produce good fruit in their third leaf, so one could produce some fruit this way. But, looking at the mass of roots in the photo above, it’s reasonable to say that after three to four years of growing in pots, the vines would start giving out.

Perhaps the longevity envelope could be pushed beyond five or six years under the following conditions:

  • using much larger planters (at least 20 gallon capacity) – but those would be hard to move and maybe too heavy to put on a balcony
  • training up to a short trunk and at least a primary bifurcation in the first year – this would require fertilization, close attention to training and selection of laterals, and luck
  • using a less vigorous, dwarfing or vigor reducing root stock

Most vines are ready to produce reasonable quality fruit in their third leaf and are considered “mature” by their fifth leaf. So, even if one could get them to last a decade, this kind of project is a bit of a race against the inevitable.

It may be a fun endeavor, but just as things get going, instead of plateauing, they may start going downhill fairly quickly.

With my vineyard, work, three kids and other responsibilities, I am not able to test this out.

If anyone else tries, I wish them luck.



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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One Response to Worse than expected

  1. John says:

    I’ve read about root pruning. Do you think that would work?

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