Sunday, March 18

How a vineyard can become obsolete

I read a recent blog entry by our neighbor in which she talked about the beauty of the fruit orchards in our local area. Whenever we drive to Fresno we cross the bridges over the San Joaquin River. To the east of the northernmost bridge are some recently planted orchards in the river bottom. Since the bridge is high above the ground, it’s easy to see the precision of the trees’ spacing and geographic orientation.

Here is a Google Earth picture of our neighbor across the river’s hundred-year-old orange orchard. Its roughly thirty trees are laid out in a kinda sorta not-quite-north-south orientation. The folks a century ago laid out the orchard to line up with magnetic north rather than geographic (true) north. It reminds me of the thousand-year-old olive orchards I saw in Italy fifty years ago, precise in a very casual, very organic way.

Recently I discovered that if an orchard or vineyard isn’t planted a certain way, current commercial harvesting methods can’t be used. Some of Karla’s relatives have a hundred-year-old vineyard that can’t be economically harvested because the rows of vines are too close together for a harvesting machine to be used. The spacing of the rows of grape vines was perfectly appropriate for when they were planted. “Now we would have to uproot every other row of vines to do machine harvesting, and it simply isn’t feasible because we would end up with half a vineyard,” Karla’s cousin explained. “And hand labor costs are too high to make it pay.”

What a dichotomy. Old vines produce some of the best grapes. Hand labor for picking is too expensive. So the vineyard lies fallow, waiting for the monetary investment to change the situation. And the banks aren’t lending.


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