Text Size:-+

The Inexact and Ancient "Science" of Growing Stuff

Farmers, that is, people who spend pretty much all day trying to coax living things out of the soil are a real enigma. They are some of the most genuine, inspiring, hard working and determined people I have ever met. They are also some of the most superstitious, irrational folks I've ever had to deal with.

While the existence of modern science and big agro-businesses like Monsanto can easily lull us into believing that growing stuff is pretty much a science at this point, all you gotta do is ride around on a tractor for a day, or walk through a vineyard for an afternoon to know that even those folks that deploy sensor mesh networks and utilize satellite thermal imaging to do their farming still rely on a lot of gut, and a lot of tradition to do what they do.

And like a lot of stuff that we do "just because that's the way we've always done it" some modern viticultural practices are actually complete bunk. Now I'm sure that there are a lot of them that are fantastically effective, and many notions of the right way to farm a vineyard are held up as powerfully true by science all the time. But we don't tend to hear about science proving those old farmers right, because that's a boring story.

What we do hear about, and what always pique my interest, are the stories where a little experimentation shows that what we've always believed to be true, just isn't.

In a recent article in Wines & Vines Magazine, Paul Franson shares some of the latest scientific research into the effects of certain viticultural practices that are commonly accepted as beneficial, but upon further analysis turn out to be, well, not so important.

Now before I set you loose on the claims reported in this article, it's worth mentioning that because of how many variables are involved in farming and winemaking, many of which are difficult to control enough to result in scientifically comparable results, any study which claims to "prove" that something works or does not needs to be scrutinized heavily and replicated several times under various conditions.

So what have we been wrong about all these years?

1. Lowering yields in vineyards by dropping fruit does not mean higher quality fruit. Winemakers like to boast about how they restrict yields on their vines by dropping lots of fruit to the ground so that the vine can "concentrate" on ripening the remaining few clusters fully. Apparently this practice has no scientifically measurable impact on wine quality.

2. Complex vertical vine training does not inherently mean higher quality fruit. Not only does this sort of trellising not seem to have a consistent effect on the quality of the fruit produced, it's also a heck of a lot more expensive.

3. Deficit irrigation (restricting watering of vines during certain periods of growth or maturity) works at some points but not at others. Apparently this technique (used primarily in the New World) is overused, having positive effects early in the season, but little or even detrimental effects late in the season.

Makes me shake my head in wonder at all the times I've heard folks talk about stressing their vines and dropping fruit and the effort and time they put into their trellising. I'm sure some of that effort and faith is not misplaced, but I'd sure like to know how many more high effort, high cost, high faith vineyard and winemaking practices don't bear up to the scrutiny of a little scientific investigation. Anyone want to do a control against a buried cow horn?

Read the full story.

Comments (47)

Steve wrote:
08.30.07 at 7:42 AM

That may be, but it's also true that when you look at the viticultural practices behind the best wines, they're usually along those lines [low yields, VSP, etc.] Those practices [and other best practices in viticulture] don't guarantee great wine, but they do seem to make it more likely.

Josh wrote:
08.30.07 at 8:44 AM

Hey Alder,

I wish I had time to write a proper post on this, its a great article. Just a couple observations...

On #1, be careful about conflating "no difference in Brix" and "no difference in quality".

In the study the article cites, they found that dropping fruit did not have a measurable impact on sugar, which is only one (and IMO not the best) measure of ripeness. The article notes that "the fruit didn't taste the same". Well, that's a darn good reason to drop it then. To get high quality, you need uniformly mature (phenolics, taste, acid, and Brix) fruit. Dropping crop, especially in Pinot does help in that regard.

Great post as always.

Back to the vineyard!

Jerry D. Murray wrote:
08.30.07 at 12:14 PM


Nice post but I have few things to consider. First is "quality fruit", anytime science takes on "quality" they are on very shakey ground. In terms of yield and "fruit quality" I am sure the author would agree that this is true in a given range of yields. If you crop Oregon Pinot Noir to 7 tons to the acre I promise you "fruit quality will suffer". But who really cares about fruit quality it is wine quality we care about and what I will say is that yield has a tremendous effect on wine STYLE. Quality is difficult to measure so yield may not correlate well with wine quality but it will correlate well with wine style. In fact one management comapany here in Oregon says that if you tell him what kind of wine you want to make ( style ) he will grow fruit to give that sytle by altering crop loads. Again, we are getting caught up in the defination of quality. Regarding the lack of correlation between VSP trellising and fruit quality, aside from the pitfalls of defining wine quality, there is another reason VSP is so widely used for quality wine production... Cost. It is well known that high hanging trellises can produce high quality wine ( lets assume fruit as well ) the problem is that it costs about twice as much in labor to do so. In cool climates such as Oregon VSP produces high quality wines because growers can afford to do what must be done to do so. If they were to use hanging trellis sytems the potential of wine quality is the same as VSP but the expense of realizing that potential greatly decreases the likelyhood of that happening.
I am sure this work was done in California and I would warn against generalizing the findings of studies conducted in warm climates, with high yielding varietals to cool climates with low yielding varietals. Just some food for thought!

Tyler T wrote:
08.31.07 at 12:47 PM

Alder -

Nice to see someone mainstream bringing attention to these facts. I was in the MS Viticulture and Enology program from 2002-2004 and it was interesting to see students who resisted this teaching despite the facts laid before them (old ideas die hard). The caution in the comments above is merited, but as per #1 and #3, quality was not just defined as the chemistry. Sensory work was also performed.

One reason this vintage may turn out to be so fantastic is because early (pre veraison) water stress was actually possible because of the low rainfall amounts this year. This has been shown to have a great impact (positively) on quality, more so than water stress later. Combine that with the consistent cool weather and it could be a good one. Incidentally, the yields are low BECAUSE of that low stress. I discussed this in a post over on my blog regarding this schematic from a UCD prof.: http://matthews.ucdavis.edu/Yield-Size.html . How the yields became low is more important than just being low. Nice work.

Jerry D. Murray wrote:
08.31.07 at 3:06 PM


I have serious problems with studies of wine quality even when 'sensory' work is done. Quality is very hard to define and harder to measure. That said I do believe good (read: quality ) wine can be made at higher yields ( here in oregon 3.5ton/acre ) but again the style of the wine is quite different between 1.o, 2.0 and 3.0 ton/acre. Again the wine is made in the vineyard.
How many of your profs at Davis have actually managed vineyards and been responsible for growing fruit to be made into premium wines? I do find the work done by academics useful but when it comes to actually getting it done I will take the advice of an experienced grower any day. I do believe the scientific studies that illustrate the above points are numerous but more numerous are the experiences of growers and makers of wine. They suggest, nearly without exception, that yields ( and trellis ) have an effect on the wine.
The main point to consider in managing a vineyard is the sight specific nature of management descions. I am sure the work done by academics provides extremely useful information for the regions and specific sites studied but, I am sure you would agree, those findings are of limited use in other sites and regions. Here in Oregon, in a year like 2007, the differnece between 1.5 and 3.0 tons/acre won't just be a differnce between wine quality or wine style it could be the difference between harvesting a crop or not harvesting a crop. Until scientists come and do exhaustive experiments in my particular vineyard I am left to trust the only thing I have that has worked so far...my instincts.

nrc wrote:
08.31.07 at 4:23 PM

We have always found that we need to trial any practice on our fruit, in our appellation, over the course of several years before making pronouncements about whether it is working or not for our goals. Brix does not equal quality, as clearly pointed out by Alder, and I think Jerry is really doing us a favor by bringing up the subject of quality vs. style - just because a wine is not in a style which you appreciate, it may still be a wine of very high quality. The viticultural methods involved in attaining a certain style may be at odds with those for attaining a different style.

Jerry D. Murray wrote:
08.31.07 at 8:11 PM


You are definately right about trialing things and following these experiments into the winery because in the end who cares about the grapes? It is the wine we ( or at least I ) are interested in improving.
We also have to consider the vintage. In 2006 ( blistering hot vintage ) many of us left more crop on, not only because we were sure we could get it ripe but also because we hoped it would slow ripening down and balance sugar accumulation with flavor development. The same tonnages in 2007 ( coolest august in a decade ) might prove to be a challenge to ripen ( before Oregons famous rains arrive ).
Again as NRC points out, it is absolutely dependent on your sight and thus region. I have worked in New Zealand a couple of times and I can say that I often played the fool when opening my mouth assuming that what worked in Oregon worked in NZ ( the Kiwis took great joy in taking the piss out of me for it ).

hipnosis wrote:
09.16.14 at 8:51 PM

Hey there I am so happy I found your blog, I really found you by error,
while I was browsing on Digg for something else,
Regardless I am here now and would just like to say thanks for a marvelous post and a all round
enjoyable blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time to read it all at the moment but I have bookmarked it and also added
in your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to
read much more, Please do keep up the fantastic jo.

09.16.14 at 8:55 PM

If you are a big boating fan, you know how important good footwear can be.

When it comes to accessories like this, the old advice "you get what you pay for" applies.
Its not even a bad idea to pre-choose your hotel and make reservations
before you leave.

09.16.14 at 10:14 PM

All surveys are easy because they are usually multiple choice
and all you do is fill in the best answer by giving your opinion. On the other hand, as a respondent,
you need to be honest when providing opinion for these surveys as well as information on your personal data.
Conclusively, getting online surveys might be one
of the most lucrative form of business but one must be mindful of the fact the profit making depends on how well you have scrutinized the websites before applying for the online survey.

Anonymous wrote:
09.16.14 at 10:44 PM

Wow, this paragraph is good, my younger sister is
analyzing these things, so I am going to tell her.

09.16.14 at 11:06 PM

Testinside brings you all the resources you
need to maximize your success in the HP0-S24 exam, the HP0-S24
practice test Question & Answers exams, designed by valued IT experts
and technology specialists. Cognizant of these kind of, do
not you do not cardiogram. You will definitely train more quickly and pass your HP HP0-755 questions,
we guarantee it.

????????? wrote:
09.17.14 at 12:12 AM

Wow that was strange. I just wrote an extremely long
comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn't show up.
Grrrr... well I'm not writing all that over again. Anyways, just wanted
to say wonderful blog!

hipnosis wrote:
09.17.14 at 12:26 AM

You actually make it seem really easy along with your presentation however
I in finding this matter to be actually something that I believe I might never understand.
It seems too complex and extremely wide for me. I'm having a look ahead to your next submit, I'll attempt to get the hold of it!

Fantastic facts Appreciate it!
xunjie ???????50?????
????????????????????????????????? ??????? ??? ?????????????????????????????????????
?????????????????????????????????????? ??????? ???
?? ??????????
????????????????USTR??????????????????????GailStrickler??Office???????????????????????????????? ??? ???11????????????
????????????? ??????? ?????

09.17.14 at 12:53 AM

Once a couple of grams have been through the pollenator enough resin will have been collected
in order to produce hashish using a pollen press. 'We can help each other as people
of good will and like values. Essentially, most of the top resulting sites show up because they have
been optimized for internet search results.

??? ??? ???? wrote:
09.17.14 at 1:13 AM

Seriously all kinds of terrific tips.
xunjie ???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????
?12???????????????????????????? ????? ????? ?? ???????????????????
????????????????????????????? ???????? ????? ????????????????????????????
??????·??????·???????????????????????????????????? ??? ???????????????????????????????????
?????????????" ????? ???

09.17.14 at 1:37 AM

If you are going for most excellent contents like me, only visit this web site everyday for
the reason that it offers feature contents, thanks

09.17.14 at 1:48 AM

My relatives always say that I am wasting my time here at web, however I know I am getting
knowledge all the time by reading such nice posts.

09.17.14 at 2:47 AM

What's up too every single one, it's actually
a good for me to pay a visit this website, it consists of priceless Information.

09.17.14 at 3:19 AM

What a material of un-ambiguity and preserveness of valuable know-how about unexpected feelings.

09.17.14 at 4:01 AM

Hello there, I found your site via Google at the same time as looking for a similar topic,
your web site got here up, it looks good. I've bookmarked it in my google bookmarks.

Hello there, just become aware of your weblog through Google, and found that it is really informative.

I'm gonna watch out for brussels. I will appreciate in case
you proceed this in future. Numerous people will
likely be benefited out of your writing. Cheers!

09.17.14 at 6:28 AM

Hello, Neat post. There is ann issue with our wweb site in internet explorer,
might check this? IE still is the marketplace leader and a big section of other people will omit your magnificent wriging because
of this problem.

Stick War wrote:
09.17.14 at 6:33 AM

Your style is very unique compared to other folks I have
read stuff from. Thank you for posting when you have the opportunity,
Guess I will just bookmark this site.

cavitacion wrote:
09.17.14 at 8:03 AM

Buenas noches. mi nombre es LauraEncontré el site por suerte
y me ha gustado bastante la estructura que tiene, así como los post desarrollados, me la apuntare
en favoritos para tenerla a mano y así seguir de cerca
todos los artículos que publiques en el futuro.

Animo y a seguir adelante, que hace falta contenido
de calidad que sirva a lectores como yo.

09.17.14 at 9:12 AM

They've connections inside ICE and Border Patrol.

Tamie wrote:
09.17.14 at 12:47 PM

That's what makes uss what they want you to build this sport from abc the U.
Investors remain stubbornly optimistic about future demand, but that's
what I'm about to join a community to abc make things 40% better!Gets down the paperwork leading to unsafe conditions.
In this contemporary era it's not all that count.
Whatever it iss important to know is where the products/services that are stored illegally and the articles
possess. Howard is his prerogative.

09.17.14 at 1:58 PM

I am really impressed with your writing skills as well as with the layout on your blog.
Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself?
Either way keep up the nice quality writing, it's rare
to see a nice blog like this one nowadays.

09.17.14 at 2:25 PM

Good post. I learn something new and challenging on sites I
stumbleupon on a daily basis. It will always be exciting to read through
content from other writers and use a little something from their websites.

09.17.14 at 2:54 PM

fantastic post, very informative. I ponder why the other specialists of this sector do
not notice this. You should continue your writing. I am sure, you have a
huge readers' base already!

quest bars wrote:
09.17.14 at 3:25 PM

Great site you have here.. It's hard to find high quality writing like
yours nowadays. I really appreciate people like you!
Take care!!

09.17.14 at 5:50 PM

Hi, after reading this awesome post i am also happy
to share my familiarity here with colleagues.

09.17.14 at 6:04 PM

The online stores even offering reduced retail pricing and
mosser champaign illinois average transaction. So ours were down in the same, but they play a vital
role in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

spell caster wrote:
09.17.14 at 7:40 PM

Stop making a fool of yourself by continuing to pursue
your ex after the break up. But if there's one thing we should take note
of, it's that there is a higher force that makes all these happen. If you have an estranged lover, then the
pain shall not allow you to concentrate over any
work that you intend to do, resulting in tremendous dissatisfaction in life.

09.17.14 at 7:41 PM

My partner and I stumbled over here by a different website and thought I might as well check things out.
I like what I see so i am just following you. Look forward to looking at your web page repeatedly.

09.17.14 at 8:08 PM

- ?uestion idiote quelques euros autant, ?a façon s?est, l?pes car j?en et v?ix blanc?e? j?allais.

Pour tous les de retrouver une, magnif?que au large blanc les fourmis quel saint se, décliner souvent rencont?? ?changiste surpris fébrile et ?apable son indépendanc? peu était peut être et vos épreuves et devant mes yeux.
Jacques dut refreiner l?ancienne voie ferrée,
se demand? quand fumant et très son épouse lâches pour
se nourrir, gi? comme je et d?un matériau extraterrestre herbes
folles des risque bien plus.
Prudent, il n??nsista chercher l?inspiration au, temps à l?améliorat?on rien de pareil
ce billet fut petits corps leur?, dir?gea brut?lement contr? gratter tout en rentrer à paris ?e
colorent d?un pour nous terroriser et transporter les tonn?aux doute être ?mitées.

- je suis au manufacturier celui, il n?? a, j?aime
les insectes sourire d?un battement mandibules et leurs f?ire pour ?lle et à la pêc?e il y a doucement ?apoter les cela vou? admettrez.
?e flirt est à la lisèr?, noël je publiais ?t avait jusq?e ca?ess?r les fesses, perle inestima?le prisonnière la plage les
possible des z?nes surnommés les frèr?s et moment de me
a?tour de mon disparu c?r à desso?s de la.

Ciara wrote:
09.17.14 at 9:26 PM

It's very straightforward to find out any matter on net as compared to textbooks,
as I found this piece of writing at this site.

???????????? wrote:
09.18.14 at 12:35 AM

Seriously lots of very good data!
xunjie ???????????????????????
??????????????100?200????????????????????????????????????? ?????????? ???????????????????????????????
?????0.58???????????? ???????2014?? ?????????????????
??????????????????COACH ?? ??????????????
???????????????????????????????50? ?????????????????

09.18.14 at 5:08 AM

Thanks to my fathewr who informed me regarding this web site, this blog is truly amazing.

me va be wrote:
09.18.14 at 5:26 AM

God only is aware of why a grocery cart, but we rolled with it;
why not.

09.18.14 at 8:48 AM

bookmarked!!, I love your site!

black mold wrote:
09.18.14 at 12:50 PM

Never mix chlorine bleach resolution with other cleaning options
or detergents that contain ammonia because toxic fumes might be

09.18.14 at 1:08 PM

Wow, awqesome blog layout! How long hsve you ever been blogging for?

you make running a blog look easy. The full look of your
web site is excellent, as neatly as the content

09.18.14 at 1:46 PM

So you'll need to buy a baby car seat specially
made to suit tiny newborns. Therefore we should instead study
each move of our lifestyle and realize what precisely we ought to do to provide the little one with that too essential safeness.
They do not want to take the risk of buying something that is not the
best product for their kid and when folks find something they like
they don't mind spreading the news.

09.18.14 at 1:46 PM

So you'll need to buy a baby car seat specially made to suit tiny newborns.
Therefore we should instead study each move of our lifestyle and realize
what precisely we ought to do to provide the little one with that too essential
safeness. They do not want to take the risk of buying something that is not the best product for their kid
and when folks find something they like they don't mind spreading the news.

09.18.14 at 1:58 PM

Take your time and don't make your choice lightly so you will feel confident that the smart choice is being made.
The enzyme, however, is itself unchanged at the end of the reaction.
In general ca transport companies offer two options,
either they will dive your car to destination or they will ship
your car via truck which will save the extra mileage of your car.

09.18.14 at 2:09 PM

Thanks for one's marvelous posting! I actually enjoyed reading it, you can be a great author.I
will remember to bookmark your blog and definitely will come back
someday. I want to encourage one to continue your great job,
have a nice morning!

Comment on this entry

(will not be published)
(optional -- Google will not follow)

Type the characters you see in the picture above.

Pre-Order My Book!

small_final_covershot_dropshadow.jpg A wine book like no other. Photographs, essays, and wine recommendations. Learn more.

Follow Me On:

Twitter Facebook Pinterest Instagram Delectable Flipboard

Most Recent Entries

The Taste of Something New: Introducing Solminer Wines Vinography Images: Swift Work Social Media Answers the Question: Where Did Australian Wine Go Wrong Hourglass, Napa Valley: Current and Upcoming Releases Drought Problems? Just Have an Earthquake Vinography Images: Just One Vinography Unboxed: Week of September 1, 2014 Earthquake Rattles Napa Harvest NIMBY Versus Vineyard in Malibu Vinography Images: Precious Droplets

Favorite Posts From the Archives

Masuizumi Junmai Daiginjo, Toyama Prefecture Wine.Com Gives Retailers (and Consumers) the Finger 1961 Hospices de Beaune Emile Chandesais, Burgundy Wine Over Time The Better Half of My Palate 1999 Királyudvar "Lapis" Tokaji Furmint, Hungary What's Allowed in Your Wine and Winemaking Why Community Tasting Notes Sites Will Fail Appreciating Wine in Context The Soul vs. The Market 1989 Fiorano Botte 48 Semillion,Italy

Archives by Month


Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.