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Viticulture,Wine

How Viticulturists Protect an Investment with Bunny Boxes

During this time of Easter, when bunnies are an iconic image of successful regeneration, I thought this would be a great time to write about bunny boxes.

It sounds so simply, and in many ways it is. They’re much more cost effective than the plastic tubes that are also used for the same function, as well not leaving nearly the same carbon footprint behind.

As we travel through wine country, bunny boxes are a part of the landscape. Most people see them as milk cartons around the base of a vine, in a newly planted vineyard. the images in this blog posting were just taken at Winterhawk Winery in Suisun Valley.

The real reason these cartons are there is to protect the new shoots of an emerging grape vine in a newly planted vineyard; or, to protect a new vine in an established vineyard, that’s replacing a diseased one.

I just Google Searched “Bunny Boxes.” Forget it… Even with “viticulture” in the search, there’s not a thing on Bunny Boxes. I pulled out my The University Wine Course (from my enology class), and Grape Pest Management (from my viticulture, where I thought it would certainly be)… Nada…

It’s just something that’s done and not discussed, unless you’re on a filed trip with a vineyard worker, or driving around wine country and seeing all these containers in what’s going to be a vineyard. Once the new shoots emerge, become trained on a trellis system, and then go away as having done their job, you’ll now know what’s happening on that plot of land.

With the cost of a grape vine being about $8.00 from a California nursery, if you’ve purchased 1000 vines to begin a small vineyard, that can be decimated in no time with vineyard pests. Your initial investment of $8,000 for your grape vines is gone.

On an Iowa State University site, you’ll see that a grape vine is only one of many other expenses. All aspects of planting a acre of land is completely broken down – again – in Iowa costs. I found that a single vine on this site costs $1.75, as compared to finding that California vitis vinifera sells for about $8.00 for a single vine. It’s seems safe to say that most other costs will also escalate in California.

Iowa State’s entire breakdown of vineyard costs associated with planting a vineyard.

So, with the Estimated Vineyard Establishment Cost per Acre of 691 vines costing $1.75 per each unit ($1347.30 in number 2), converted to California costs of $8.00 per vine becomes $5666.05. This also changes the First Year Viticultural Total Annual Cash Expense Year 1 in number 5 to $9303.20.

Here’s their breakdown for Year 1.

9 x 7 ft spacing (691 vines/A) w/ post spaced 28 ft apart (Iowa costs):

  1. Total pre-plant cost:  $169.35
  2. Total planting Year 1 cost:  $1,347.30 (Based on 691 units at $1.75/each of Iowa vines; however, using 691 units at $8/each of California vines, the total for this becomes $5666.05)
  3. Total Trellis materials cost:  $1481.65
  4. Total trellis installation cost:  $519.86
  5. First Year Viticultural Total Annual Cash Expense Year 1:  $4,846.40 (Based on 691 units at $1.75/each of Iowa vines; however, using California vines, the total capital investment for this acre of land is $9303.20)

With a nearly $10,000 investment, Bunny boxes become a much more important item than one would initially perceive.

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5 Responses to “How Viticulturists Protect an Investment with Bunny Boxes”

  1. Jo says:

    My friend Jeff Miller (Artisan Family of Wines) just emailed me with the following:

    Benchgrafts are about 3.75/each. Even with planting, training,
    probably closer to $5 first year than $8. jeff

    To which I responded:

    I’m going to add your comment to this story, if you don’t mind. I love this kind of feedback, making it more real. I searched the Internet for costs, and the $8 was all I could find. Thanks. jo

    The math is still quite substantive, and worth the simple protection of Bunny boxes.

  2. Richard says:

    Even $3.75 is a high price for vines that in large volumes can often be bought for under $3.00.
    In 30 years of grape growing I’ve never heard them called Bunny Boxes till now. The vine protectors can also make it easier to use a contact herbicide around the young vines. This barrier keeps the vine safe from the chemical, Glyphosate usually name branded as RoundUp, and will reduce the high cost and necessity of hand weeding each vine. Taller tubes that are used by some have the same purposes and will also allow the vines to grow taller without breaking before requiring the labor to tie them to the stake. This can save a whole pass through the vineyard with a crew to tie the vines.
    In many cases the latter 2 reasons are more important than the Bunny problem.

  3. Jo says:

    Richard,

    The first time I heard about them being called Bunny Boxes was in 1993-94, when I was working for Bill Hambrecht. The (then) vineyard manager Hector Bedolla took me to Bill’s Rockaway Vineyard, and showed an area to me that was under development. It was a hill full of Bunny Boxes, and Hector explained the concept to me… Back then, they were actual milk cartons. Today, some are specifically designed for vineyard use. (Now the ranch hands don’t have to guzzle so milk anymore.)

  4. Barry Adams says:

    Bunny Boxes. A picture comes to my head of hundreds of drunk rabbits, drinking wine and acting like drunken bunnies do, in the middle of the vineyard.

  5. Jo says:

    Too funny!

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