Ruth’s Vineyard

Ruth was Gerard’s mother. She had a strong character and showed persistent support and encouragement. She lived well and long. Ruth was consistently open and non-judgmental. She inspired acceptance in others. In her youth, she was slightly feisty and energetic as a country hospital matron. She returned to her earlier roots in later years. Just like a good red wine, she lived out her remaining time and softened into increasingly mellow acceptance. She loved good alcohol and enjoyed sharing it with her grandchildren.

When we lost mum, we received a small inheritance. We used this to establish our vineyard and we name it in her honor.

Vineyard vision

To grow grapes to produce a soft, palatable wine reminiscent of European styles. A wine for drinking with good food. To develop a distinct Eaglerise Farm terroir that incorporates our soils through to our farm philosophies.

The Design

It is customary to design a vineyard with rows of grapes running north-south. This design captures more sunlight as the sun travels from east to west. Grapes are grown on trellis and the spacing varies, both between the rows and along the rows. This is, somewhat, determined by the required yield.

The Eaglerise Farm design is guided by our philosophies. We have planted our grapes on a 3m grid. We have turned our system 45 degrees to give us nominal rows running north-west/south-east. You can see this in the vineyard map. We have 4m between the grapes on the east-west axis. This increases the opportunity to capture the sun’s energy throughout the day.

We plan to have 1200 vines within our vineyard when the design is fully implemented. They will cover 1.6 ha.

We went out at mid-day and marked the shadow from a steel post. This gave us true north. We then marked out a 5m square from that lines and then used the diagonals to give us the lines for planting.

You can see the 3m grid pattern where we planted our first vines.

Here we are looking North West.

We fixed a 6m purlin to the front of our small tractor and used it to gauge our rip line. Then we cross ripped, before laying drip irrigation and planting. We use one 4litre/hour dripper/vine. The design is for a dryland vineyard once we have the vines established.


The aerial view of Ruth’s Vineyard shows the grid pattern and you can see that the diagonals between the vines run north south.

The image also shows the remnant timber that we have retained for habitat.

Here’s a bird’s eye vie of our vineyard in May 2020. The vines have been weeded but there is much growth throughout the paddock. The northern end of the vines is allocated for white wine grapes, yet to be determined.

This table shows the layout of the early plantings. To maximize diversity, we planted each variety in banks of three rows. The rows are uneven because there are dead trees providing habitat and the paddock is not even.

The light blue colour represents the Mouverdre. The brown colour represents the Malbec and the darker blue represents the Zinfandel.  The two greens represent the support trees.

Support trees

Diversity is vital to us. So, we have included acacias and fruit trees within our vines. We call these “support trees”. The acacias will capture atmospheric nitrogen through their symbiotic relationship with rhizobia and so increase soil nitrogen. A flock of meat ducks will graze under the vines. They will eat the leaves, seed and seed pods and redistribute this nitrogen throughout the vineyard.

Assorted fruit trees will provide a higher strata of habitat and diversity. The mixture of evergreen acacias and deciduous fruit trees will improve available ecological niches. These will assist in pest management within the vines.

These support trees are planted every 5 vines. Five vines are planted, then an acacia, five more vines, then a fruit tree. This gives two support trees for every ten vines. Two support trees per 12 plants equals 17% support trees.

Each support tree will have a circumference of approximately 6m. The design includes 480 support trees. This equates to 2880m. The circumference of the vineyard is 846m. This will give us a total edge for the grapes of 3726m. This is an excellent result for the permaculture principle of maximizing the edge.


The First Year So Far

We have crawled up our learning curve in vineyard design and management. We planted the vines in what was one of the hottest years we’ve experienced. The vines came from two suppliers. One sent bare-rooted vines early. These had long roots and were planted into the rip lines after we had some rain. The other supplier sent vines that had been grown on in a shadehouse. They were in small pots and we did not get them until around Christmas time. We planted them using a water-spear, so into good conditions. However, their less-developed root system did not handle our hot dry season very well and we experienced significant losses.

We also learnt more about irrigation. Even though the vineyard is designed as a dry-land vineyard, we needed to install an irrigation system to get the young vines through the first couple of years. We did extensive research and installed underground 10mm pipe with a dripper per vine. We found that the pressure from our gravity system wasn’t enough and there was a back pressure of air trapped in the main feed line. This reduced pressure prevented the drippers pushing through tine algae and allowed the drippers to block.

This was alleviated by placing an air bleed valve high up in the main feed line.

Water in the line pushes the air valve up, and closes the valve, when the line is free of air. This seals the line.

The air bleed valve gets sucked down to open the valve, as air is drawn into the line when irrigation is finished and the lines drain.

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