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Planting Vines at Tin Lizzie Wineworks

May 6, 2010
Sangiovese vines

A row of brand-new Sangiovese vines

There isn’t a single winery in Howard County, Maryland – not yet anyways. Tin Lizzie Wine Works in Clarksville, MD is hoping that will change if the county council passes key changes to zoning regulation laws. In the meantime, owners Dave and Rob, who currently run a winemaking school – you choose the grapes, they show you the rest – recently put in a test plot with the hope of someday expanding their business to include a full winery. For now, though, it’s our own local version of what CrushPad started out in California, offering just about anyone the chance to see the wine-making process all the way from fresh fruit to filling bottles.

I was on hand to help plant some of the first vines, including Sangiovese in the photos. If you’ve ever been curious as to what goes into planting a grape vine that will one day produce delicious local wine, read on!

Sangiovese vine prior to planting

A Sangiovese grape vine - prior to planting. The light brown roots are on the right, and the bundle on the left is where the Vinifera plant is grafted on the new world rootstock.

Step one: order your vines

When you start a vineyard, it isn’t as simple as throwing some seeds in the ground. The European vinifera varieties require special treatment, as the old-world plants must be grafted on to American rootstock to improve their resistance to particular diseases and pests. You’ll probably want to try a few different vines, because every soil type, sun exposure level, and drainage condition affets them differently!

Sangiovese vine partially planted

Here's the vine at the half-filled point. You'll want to pour enough water in to soak the roots, but don't completely flood the soil either or you'll wash out the nutrients.

Step two: the planting

Since the vines are already about 2-3 feet long, you’ll be better off with something mechanical like a post hole drill! The vine roots should be spread wide at the bottom of the hole, and then you just fill ‘er up all the way around until it’s about halfway full. Pour on some water to help moisten the soil around those roots and then top off with more soil to grade, leaving just a couple inches of rootstock exposed below the graft. Doing all this by hand, I’d say we spent maybe 5-10 minutes per vine; makes it easy to see why modern wineries spanning hundreds of acres need machine assistance to be cost-efficient.

Planted Sangiovese vine

A fully planted Sangiovese vine. Note the lump in the stem where the two plants were grafted - that should be a few inches above the soil.

Step three: wait

The planting is all done! Of course, you should protect your young vines from deer with plastic tubing and, eventually, other measures – I’ve heard of everything from fences to tripwires to roadkill (hint: it’s the smell). Make sure you have some time on your hands, because it’ll take several years before your first harvest, and then several more until the vines reach maturity and produce grapes at their full potential quality.

I’m looking forward to joining up with a group and making my own wine at Tin Lizzie sometime in the near future. Would you believe that they still haven’t found anyone interested in using local grapes? If you’re interested in going in on a barrel, let me know in the comments!

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Elyse permalink*
    May 12, 2010 8:11 am

    Very cool – how available are Maryland grapes?

    • June 16, 2010 9:12 am

      Elyse: There are a number of commercial Maryland wine grape vineyards from which we can source local grapes. We just need to get our commitments in early before the harvest season is upon us.

  2. May 23, 2010 11:09 pm

    Maryland grapes are always available – Dave offers them to everyone but as of yet nobody’s tried making a barrel with them. Wouldn’t it be neat to be the first? 🙂

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