The Winemaker’s Journal: In The Beginning (Wine Grape Grower’s Archives)

iron gate vineyard


Today we will plant! We have the 225 gallon water tank filled up and ready to go. I’ve got 555 Merlot vines that need to go in the ground. When we get to the vineyard I demonstrated how I wanted the vine planted to a four man crew. I have one man who understands English and gives the instructions in Spanish. Of course, I have never planted a grape vine before, so who knows if I’m planting it right or wrong. Starting off I am helping to plant. It quickly becomes apparent that someone must oversee getting vines, water, and grow tubes to the planters and that someone is ME! Like an answer to a prayer my sister and her son show up. She has taken a day off from work to help and I am grateful. It is all I can do to keep things rolling along. I must keep a close watch over the planters, some are not planting in a straight row and the vines are either too low or too high. These guys have not planted grape vines before and this is all new to us. We break for lunch. We probably have 2/3 of the Merlot in the ground. So far so good. The post driving crew is staying ahead of us and Gene is freshening up the holes for the vines.

As we come back from our lunch break the sky turns black and the temperature drops about 20 degrees and wonder of wonders it starts to snow. Huge f1uffy flakes of wet snow. It snows and snows and snows. The ground is starting to get white and I’m sitting there in the truck wondering what else could possible go wrong. My next thought is… will this kill my vines?

The weather is too bad to plant. The forecast is calling for a hard freeze on Wednesday morning with temperatures around 27 degrees. We called a friend of ours who has a vineyard and he advised us to wait a day to resume planting and to leave out vines in the protection of the cellar for one more day so that’s what we did.

Since we decided not to plant on Wednesday I went down to the cellar to check on my vines. The ones that have been in water for a long period I would take them out and pack them in the sawdust mixture. Believe it or not, hauling buckets of water and sawdust up and down the cellar ladder was physically demanding for me. It takes me an hour or so each morning to make sure all the vines were moist and cool. I’m not a stranger to hard work but this turned out to be more work than I ever imagined.

Things I’ve Learned

You cannot control Mother Nature. April in North Carolina can be anything and everything. Plan for everything. I also found out bad weather can be a blessing in disguise. If it had not been for a day of rest I don’t think I would have made it. I had been sick with the flu for the past two weeks and I was terribly rundown.


We planted the rest of the Merlot vines and all of the Sauvignon Blanc. In some areas of the vineyard Gene had to reauger the holes. This Carolina clay gets very hard and is difficult to plant in. We watered in the roots and watered again as we finished a row. It will be next week before the irrigation system is in. We still have four men planting. My mother came today and helped put grow tubes together. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

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