Planning a vineyard is about more than planting wine grapes and hoping they grow. On the contrary, many different considerations go into planning a vineyard—from planning for sun and wind exposure to considering different types of topography, all the way to preparing the soil and figuring out your irrigation strategy. There is a reason that there are businesses out there making all or most of their money just by doing vineyard designs for different businesses and individuals.
Topography and Vineyard Design
At Hogan Land Services, we can undertake the challenge of planning your vineyard design for you or helping you devise an efficient design for your site. However, we offer far more than just vineyard design, and our broad scope of services allows us to provide savings in time and money over the life of the project since many aspects of the project stay in house. Some of the services we provide that are integral to a thorough vineyard design are: land surveying and mapping, civil and structural engineering services, planning and permit submittal.
If you are thinking about planting a vineyard on a plot of land that you own, we can provide you with the tools you need to create the ideal vineyard design. One of the first tools that we provide is a topographic survey. This kind of map can give you the insights necessary to turn your land into the most fruitful vineyard possible.
Why is a topography survey so essential for vineyard planning, you may ask? The answer starts with elevation and land contours. Think of the vineyards you’ve seen in your travels. The best ones—the ones you read about, see in magazine photos, or drink wine from—tend to be situated amidst rolling hills and valleys. That’s because, while you can plant a vineyard on flat ground, the most successful wine grape crops grow on hillsides. How come? Because of sunlight.
More than virtually any type of crop, wine grapes will develop very differently depending on how a plant is situated. Climate is a factor, but it isn’t everything. The direction that a vineyard faces (also known in the wine world as “aspect”) and the slope and layout of the terrain are just as important because these factors determine when a wine grape gets sunlight and how much it absorbs. We don’t want to get too deep into the specifics of winemaking here but suffice to say that grapes that receive too much sunlight become too sugary. In turn, those grapes produce a wine that has too much sweetness and not enough acidity. It will taste more like grape juice than the intense, complex, and refreshing flavor wine enthusiasts expect. On the other hand, grapes that don’t get enough sunlight will produce wines that are extremely bitter and tart. Needless to say, neither of these outcomes is desirable.
Here in the process of vineyard planning is where topography comes in. A good slope, when paired with the right aspect, will ensure that wine grapes catch the less intense morning sun but remain shielded from the scorching afternoon sun. Hillside vineyard planting, in other words, uses the slopes as natural barriers to control how much sunlight a wine grape gets in any given day. This design ensures that grapes ripen enough to be harvested and used for winemaking, but no so much that they build up excessive amounts of sugar.
Because of these factors of quality winemaking, it is important to consider the contours of the land on which you are planning to plant and build your vineyard. A topographic survey of your land will show the slopes of your property, making it easier to highlight spots where the orientation and gradient of the land might create ideal grape-growing spots.
The Challenges of Growing a Vineyard on a Hillside
Of course, just looking for hillsides—or even slopes that face the morning sun—isn’t enough. While growing wine grapes on hillsides is best for the ultimate quality, taste, and complexity of the wine, it also poses several other challenges for the vintner. Maintaining a vineyard on a slope—particularly one with an extremely steep gradient—involves operating tractors or other equipment on uneven ground, which is challenging. Sometimes, building a vineyard on a hillside requires terracing of the hill, which can be extremely expensive. And erosion is also a concern—one you wouldn’t have with a flat-ground vineyard.
A topographic survey not only shows you where on your property the hills are but also helps to visualize which hills have the steepest gradients. This information can be invaluable when choosing where and how to build your vineyard, build roads or install erosion control.
At Hogan Land Services, our team of surveyors, civil engineers, structural engineers and planners is happy to help you devise a vineyard design that will avoid too much exposure to the sunlight while also minimizing labor and maintenance challenges. To learn more about what we do, or to schedule a topographic survey of your proposed vineyard site, get in touch with us today. Contact us at 877.544.2104 or fill out our online contact form.