How to establish a wine grape vineyard

What are the best soil types for wine grapes? Are my soils suitable for a vineyard?

Questions about soil suitability are the most common first questions raised by individuals interested in establishing a vineyard. While soil type is important, it is not the most important factor when considering whether a wine grape vineyard will be a viable crop for your farmland.

Location, location, location

It is important to consider your location first, as it is the most important factor for two reasons: 1) environment and 2) marketing.

Environment

Grapevines need certain climates to grow successfully. Production limitations exist for grapevines, including the length of growing season, the amount of heat units gained (growing degree days) during the season, minimum winter temperatures, and the risk of frost in spring and fall. Different grape cultivars are suited to specific regions, and not all are suited to a particular environment. It is important to understand grape production first to match cultivars to vineyard sites and avoid developing vineyards on unsuitable properties and/or areas of the state where there is greater risk. Grapevines may be able to grow in just about every region of Oregon and the US. However, they are easier (and less costly or risky) to grow in certain regions over others. Minimizing your risk as a farmer and wine producer is important to establishing and maintaining a viable vineyard for the future.

Marketing

Locating your vineyard within an American Viticultural Area will help increase your ability to market and sell your grapes (and wine if you plan to have a winery). Many wineries in Oregon prefer to purchase fruit from designated American Viticultural Areas for higher quality wines. Furthermore, vineyards in certain regions of the state have higher price values for the grapes produced in those regions. See the latest Oregon Vineyard and Winery Report for further information on production statistics and regional grape prices.

So what about soils?

The emphasis of soil for suitability likely comes from consumer wine marketing about vineyard terroir. However, soil properties are the most important consideration rather than any one specific soil type. Even in a region well suited to wine grape production, there may be unsuitable soils throughout that region and within a given vineyard. When determining suitability of farmland for vineyards, you will want to consider the following: soil depth, water holding capacity, and depth to restrictive features. Also, you will want to avoid areas with flooding, seasonal high water table, and shallow depth.

How to learn more

There is much to consider before establishing a vineyard, so use the resources below to help guide you through the planning process.

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