WARNING: If you’re in the wine business, this is only VIT 101. This blog story has been created for people just learning about vineyards. Please judge accordingly.

VIT 101: Cover Crops in a Vineyard

Cover crops benefit a vineyard in a few ways. They begin by repelling harmful pests. By having a cover crop of wild flowers, for instance, beneficial insects follow. Along with blooming flowers, honey bees to ladybugs, butterflies, lacewings, ground beetles and other insects all feed on the pests found in these vineyards.

By planting flowers, it’s making that vineyard more sustainable, while also having the ability to eliminate the many poisons that non-sustainable vineyards use to kill those pests that exist locally. Rather than simply repelling these pests and keeping the vineyard more in balance with nature, these harmful chemicals don’t serve the planet’s health in beneficial ways.

Once these plants are tilled back into the soil, they return important nitrogen to Mother Earth, decomposition happens, and that nitrogen is delivered to the surrounding grape vines.

Besides wild flowers, these plants may also include legumes and bell beans, rye grasses, oats, and/or clover, which are all rich in nitrogen. All of these plants create the all-important symbiotic relationship for nitrogen-fixing bacteria.

This picture was taken at the Floodgate Vineyard in Russian River Valley.

Cheers to the Vignerons Who Weigh In

Marty Johnson of Ruby-Magdalena-Vineyards (Co-Owner and Co-Founder), and was winemaker/cellar master at Eaton Hill Winery.

Just cut my cover crop down low and left it on the surface (as opposed to tilling it in, which I normally do). We are in a drought situation here as well [situated just North of Zillah WA], and the cover crop clippings should act as a mulch to help prevent evaporation of precious moisture.

Dan Kleck of Silver Stone Wine Gallery

Note this is “every other row” cover cropped. Many vineyards will alternate these each year, to spread the effects.

Jo Diaz question of Dan Kleck:

Another great point, Dan. I always wondered why it was every other row. So, too much nitrogen would give the vines more vigor, and you’d have to be cutting them back more?

Dan Kleck answer:

Too much cover crop (every row) on these hillside vineyards would compete too much with the vines’ water needs and growth, as hillside soils are thin. Hence, every other row is usually a good compromise, and these are often alternated every few years, or so, to equalize the effects.

Dennis R. Grimes of Eagles Nest Winery:

We use Olde English Southdown Baby Doll Sheep for vineyard and estate weeding and just avoid the whole issue of herbicides/chemicals.

We also use organics like stylet oil (AKA mineral oil) and aqueous sulfur for White Powdery Mildew – the bane of roses and wine grapes. These break down quickly in the environment which is the whole point, and require reapplication which makes organic method ops more costly and labor intensive but overall it’s better for the environment, the vineyards, and the wine. We don’t use pesticides either. We avoid protein/mineral fining agents and use (gravity) racking only which is positive from the vegan and no-arsenic/ pesticide residue (think France) standpoint. Wife Julie got some Muscovy ducks to help with insect control. Two new lambs arrived last weekend. You know (human) mom’s use mineral oil on baby’s bottoms to prevent diaper rash.