Successful Temecula Winegrape Harvest Wrap-Up

Temecula Winegrape Harvest to Become More Mechanized

 

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

 

Winegrape harvest is going well in the Temecula area of Riverside County, east of San Diego. Ben Drake, president of Drake Enterprises, Inc., a vineyard and avocado grove management company there, summarized this year’s winegrape harvest. “We’re doing real well,” said Drake, who is also a grower board member of the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA).

“We had some real hot weather in middle of June, which reduced some of our yields. We got through that warm weather. Vines recovered and some of the fruit recovered. We’re seeing a slight reduction in yield—somewhere between 10 and 20 percent overall—because of that hot spell.”

Ben Drake, Temecula Winegrapes
Ben Drake, president of Drake Enterprises, Inc. and grower board member of the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA).

 

Harvest began toward the end of July and is now complete, Drake’s winegrape harvest is all hand done, not yet by machine. Drake said only one winery in the Temecula area has a machine.

Hand labor will change soon, according to Drake, because the new overtime bill mandates that farmworkers will receive overtime pay after working a threshold of 8 hours instead of 10. Drake is looking at machines that will dramatically decrease the hours of his workers—a consequence the state’s agriculture industry warned the Assembly about before they passed AB-1066.

“Overall,” Drake said, “it has been a long season. I grow about 35 to 36 different winegrape varieties, which allows me to pick some earlier and some later. That’s just the way they mature. It allows us to have plenty of time to get everything harvested.”


Drake Enterprises, Inc. the premier vineyard and avocado grove Management Company located in Temecula, California. Drake Enterprises, Inc. provides a full range of vineyard and avocado related activities to its clients. These include site selection, soils and water evaluation, variety, rootstock and scion selection, vineyard and avocado grove layout and development, vineyard and avocado grove management, harvest, consulting, avocado marketing strategy and grape brokerage.

Winegrape Cultural Practices Go Mechanical

Winegrape Cultural Practices Must Go Mechanical for Sustainability

By Emily McKay Johnson, Associate Editor

 

Higher wages handed down by the California Legislature are driving California winegrape growers to mechanize many farming operations. Doug Beckgeographic information systems (GIS) specialist and agronomist for Monterey Pacific Incorporated who works with winegrowers in the Salinas Valley, commented, “We don’t have the people; that’s the main problem. We can put bodies out in the field, but we can’t get the work done the way it needs to be done, at the time it needs to be done,” he said.

Mechanical Box Pruning on Winegrapes
Mechanical Box Pruning on Winegrapes

 

So the industry has no choice but to go mechanical on pruning, leafing as well as harvesting. Beck explained pruning has been tough to mechanize. “We’re basically just trying to do a system that is pruned by a tractor, creating a box head that self-regulates—it sets the amount of crop it needs and grows the size canopy it needs in order to balance that vine, produce good quality grapes and produce enough to be economically viable,” noted Beck.

 

Economic viability—profit—is critical, according to Beck. “In fact, it is true sustainability. Otherwise we’re not in business,” he said.

 

Mechanical pruning essentially creates a hedge every year. Beck explained, “Typically we have pruning spurs that have two buds or three buds, a hand space apart, coming off that cordon that we cut by hand. Instead of just having spurs, we let that grow into a box, and the mechanical pruner cuts along the sides and then across the top of the vine in one pass,” Beck explained. “It looks basically like a long box,” he said.

 

Beck has discovered that mechanical pruning into a box shape on the trellis wires, “works across all varieties we’ve tried. We’re definitely in a cool area for grape production,” Beck said, “so those are the kind of grapes that we’re growing: Pinot Noir, Grenache, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris, along with some Cabernet.”

 

Beck said that winegrape vineyards have a lot of vigor in the Salinas Valley. “You also have big crops, which may also require some shoot or crop thinning. You have to come up with other machines to do the rest of the operations that they usually do by hand.”

 

“The mechanical process appears to be working well because growers are seeing a bump in yield of 30 to 50 percent,” Beck commented, “and they are saving about $1,000 per acre. Economically, it makes a lot of sense.”

 

“Quality is definitely acceptable. It’s as good as any other trellis system we have out there. Quality comes from vine balance and fruit exposure to light, and that box prune system accomplishes both,” said Beck.