Phil Freese of Mondavi said this to me several years ago and I have never forgotten it. It is another critical lesson I have followed year after year with great success.
As most growers are aware, there seem to be 2 schools of thought when it comes to irrigating your vines after veraison. The first believes in short, frequent irrigations close to the vine in order to better control the vine and the maturation of the fruit. The second believes in long, infrequent irrigations distant from the vine in order to let the vine develop a larger, more resilient root system. I do not know which school of thought is correct but I believe Daniel Bosch of Mondavi when he says that in most years it really doesn’t matter. And I agree that every irrigation strategy must take into consideration climate, location and soil.
However, for me and my vineyard, the deep, infrequent irrigation strategy seems to work best. I like thinking of my soil in 3 dimensions, the way Spock thought about chess in Star Trek. By thinking of my vineyard in 3 dimensions, I use every drop of moisture in my soil above the clay pan before I begin irrigating in order to encourage my vines to build large root systems all the way down to the clay pan. As a result, my water use has declined significantly while my quality has actually increased. It also allows me to maintain a perennial cover crop that doesn’t compete with my vines while still producing an adequate financial return. And most importantly, it allows me to get through the recurring fall heat spikes without either me or my winery clients panicking.
I know that ever vineyard and soil type is different when it comes to irrigation, but as with everything, improvements can be made regardless of how small they may seem. And finding the right irrigation strategy for your vineyard is one of those critical lessons.