Drought-Tolerant Labor of Love: What I Learned By Creating My Own Vineyard By Scott MacDonald
This guest post was written by Scott MacDonald exlusively for Social Vignerons.
A wine-lover for many years, I recently harvested the first of the Chardonnay grapes from my home vineyard in the front yard of my house in Del Mar, California.
I call the vineyard Chateau Luzon, which is a name one of my neighbors came up with. My contemporary-style home, which is located on Luzon Avenue, was built in 1995 by award winning developer and architect, Batter Kaye. The house is a modern construction made up of exposed concrete, dramatic windows, and multiple levels. It sits high on the top of a hill, with views overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
“In 2014, I needed to re-landscape my front yard, but didn’t like the drought tolerant options available.”
Since my front yard slopes down and faces south, I had the idea of planting a mini vineyard (I call it a “minyard”) as a water-wise option.
“What did I learn from planting my own vineyard? As it turns out, I learned a lot.”
First, I needed a hardy varietal because growing conditions in my area are not optimal.
In San Diego, a marine cloud layer frequently blocks sunshine during the months of May and June. The salt air is often accompanied by rust and mildew. Pinot and Chardonnay grapes have a reputation for being better able to tolerate adverse growing conditions (I rejected Concord grapes immediately). Pinots can be difficult, according to growers I talked to, so I chose Chardonnay.
Second, the concept of a home vineyard was also a way to comply with California’s water conservation goals.
I decided to use a strictly controlled drip irrigation system, so that only the vine roots receive water. As the vines become established, less water is provided and the vines struggle to make the best quality grapes.
Finally, since the soil is sandy, I learned that I needed to add nutrients and spray sulfur on the vines as the growing season progressed.
I didn’t want to use any poison, so I fought pests with benign oil and trapped visiting gophers. We have many birds in the area, so we put nets over the vines when the grapes began to mature. Unfortunately, bees found the grapes delicious, and we had to harvest early or the bees would have sucked the grapes dry. Next year we’ll use nets with smaller openings.
“If sun and soil conditions are favorable, home vineyards are far better than grass and other water intensive landscaping and are likely comparable with widely used drought tolerant vegetation.”
And a vineyard in the front yard has far greater aesthetic appeal than desert plantings. Only 60 feet by 10 feet, my mini vineyard serves as an innovative and scenic foreground to the dramatic house behind. As the vines filled out, they added a beautiful foreground to our contemporary house. Passing cars stop often, as visitors want to know more about the vines and grapes.
And how did my neighbors feel about the vineyard?
They loved the idea and wanted to stomp grapes. When it was time to harvest, the entire neighborhood turned up to pick and press the grapes with a hand press.
For those who are considering starting their own home vineyard, here’s what I think you need:
- hardy grapes
- a drip watering system
- and someone to watch for disease and apply sulfur, as needed.
You also need a good winemaker.
I approached local vintner, Todd D’Alessio, to help me ferment, blend, and store the wine from my grapes. The juice from the grapes is being stored in a stainless tank, but will be blended with other Chardonnay grapes and aged in oak barrels.
“We estimate that Chateau Luzon Chardonnay should be available in 2017.”
About our Guest:
Scott MacDonald is the author of the debut business memoir, Saving Investa: How an Ex-factory Worker Helped Save One of Australia’s Iconic Companies, which recounts his efforts to save an Australian commercial real estate property company with $9 billion in assets.
He is also the founder of a scholarship program for needy students (www.macdonaldscholars.com) and profits from his book support more scholarships. You can read more about MacDonald, his home vineyard, and his work at www.authorscottmacdonald.com.