At last, after a number of delays and problems, we have finally completed the planting of the first hectare (2.5 acres) of our vineyard. The whole process took us a couple of weeks and it has taught us a whole host of new skills. We used contractors for the heavy work and now most of the vines have been planted, we will continue the ground work and irrigation works ourselves.
The people who dug the 2800 holes and planted the vine plants rejected 150 of them as being substandard. With no quibble at all, the suppliers of the vines agreed to give us replacement plants. So, in a few weeks time we will complete planting the last couple of rows.
Why did we plant Malbec vines? Well our finca is located exactly in the area where French colonists first planted the Malbec grapes in Argentina. In Europe, at that time, itwas not a sought after variety, but as it prospered so well over here it became one of the leading grapes in Argentina. Most of the fincas around us are now devoted to fruit or alfalfa, so you could say that our vineyard has brought Malbec back to its origins in our part of San Rafael.
For the technically minded the support structure for our 2800 Malbec vines was built from 600 wooden posts, each 2.5 meters long, which were strung with 9 km (5.5 miles) of wire. Also 80 small tree trunks were buried around the edges of the field to act as ground anchors for the end posts. 160 adjustable wire tensioners were installed to keep the support wires rigid.
The photos below give an idea of the work – as well as the tea and meal breaks involved!
Initially the whole hectare was marked out with temporary stakes and wire.
Marking out the field for the posts
Then 40 furrows were ploughed across the width of the field. These furrows were where the posts, plants and initial irrigation channels would run.
Ploughing the (straight) furrows across the field
The short tree trunks were then buried to act as ground anchors for the system of posts and wires.
The holes for all the ground anchors are dug
Each morning started with a cup of tea/coffee/mate. No briefings, no “team talk”, no “morning management meeting”, no identifying targets – just everyone having a natter, a cuppa, then off to work.
Each day started with a cuppa
The end posts for each rows were then installed.
The head posts were the first to be put in place
Work stopped at this stage until we had built a set of channels to connect all the furrows to the farm’s main irrigation system. Even Mary and Fred were put to work helping to clean the return channel for the irrigation water.
Team effort - no one was allowed a day off!
With the temporary irrigation system in place we then waited for our turn for irrigation water.
Watering by moonlight.
On Sunday night, at about 1am, and by moonlight, we irrigated the wholefield. This wetted the ground ready for planting. Remember we only get water once a week here and there is no other source for watering in new plants. Hence wandering around the farm in the dark!
The holes for the vines were dug in the damp ground
The next morning the ground in the furrows was still nice and damp. As the 2800 holes were dug, we went off to collect the vine plants.
Collecting the vine plants
The vines were planted and then the remaining wooden posts were distributed around the field and then placed in each hole. They were so well placed that no matter which way you looked, they all stood in straight lines. Nice.
Intermediate posts in place
Now came the stringing of the support wires for the vines. And I think it is time for an artistic photo.
Barbeque time again
Vines and posts in place, wires being strung and tensioned. The field now has the feel of being a vineyard at last.
The vineyard is taking shape in the evening sun
As the vineyard construcion neared completion the workload for us increased. Graciela hand weeded the furrows to remove the local chipica grass – very invasive and very difficult to eradicate. We did not want to spray with herbicide, so hand cleaning was needed.
Hand weeding instead of using herbicide sprays
After the third irrigation the wires were re-tensioned, protective plastic collars were put on the vine plants and plastic tapes put in place to train the vines up to the wires.
Construction complete, but now the work starts. Weekly watering, keeping an eye open for diseases, routine training and pruning. Changing over from the temporary to a permanent irrigation system, Weeding and years of tender care.
Now, if you can wait for another 3 to 4 years you can taste a bottle of our Malbec wine.
Work complete. Now for years of tender care.