In 2014 Dr. Eric Stafne was tasked to analyze the vineyards throughout the state. The Oklahoma Vineyard Quality study was funded through the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food, and Forestry.
The purpose of the study had four primary goals;
- Identify quality improvements needed in Oklahoma Vineyards and pathways to implement them through educational programs.
- Identify geographically the grape cultivars grown throughout Oklahoma’s eco-regions.
- Grow high quality grapes which can be made into high quality juices and/or wines.
- Provide additional subject matter for incorporation into educational and extension programming.
Dr Stafne had the following recommendations and conclusions.
Recommendations for GENTOPYE (cultivar) selection:
- Limit vinifera production north of I-40, except on very good sites/soils and choose cold hardy cultivars. Use
- South of I-40 only plant vinifera on very good sites/soils. This region has more options in terms of cultivars to choose from, but quality and quantity of fruit is still a concern.
- Use rootstocks on vinifera and some high-percentage vinifera hybrids
- Look to incorporate high quality hybrids as a hedge against disastrous years
- Wineries must further integrate hybrids into their plans if vineyards are to survive. Prices paid for the fruit must be competitive and reflect the value and quality of the fruit.
- Three to four tons/per acre should be the minimum for production of vinifera. Hybrids should range from 4-8 tons per acre.
￼Recommendations for MANAGEMENT to improve fruit quality:
- ￼Soils in Oklahoma may limit productivity due to low organic matter, high Boron, heavy clay textures, salinity, and other factors. Amend prior to planting and monitor thereafter to improve soil quality.
- Water is a critical element in the vineyard. Increase irrigation to reduce stress during the summer and improve cold hardiness.
- Strive for a well-balanced canopy. Canopy management not only helps to produce higher quality fruit in- year, but also in the future. Balancing vegetative growth and crop load is important for overall vine health.
- Pest control is critical, especially control of fungal diseases, grape berry moth, and weeds in young vineyards. These pests rob vines of critical nutrients, water, sunlight, and other elements, thus weakening the vine.
- Determine if mechanized harvest and pruning is something that can be done in the future. A well-trained and competent labor force is lacking now and will continue into the future.
- Keep detailed records and adjust management strategies from year-to-year as necessary.
￼Recommendations for SITE selection to improve fruit quality:
- Perform a soil test prior to planting and then every 2-3 years after planting.
- Modify and amend the soil if needed, especially pH and macronutrients
- Avoid planting in low spots
- Maximize air flow and sunlight as much as possible
- Recognize that all sites are not good locations for grape production
Recommendations for future EDUCATION programming:
- Encourage growers to incorporate the Oklahoma Vineyard Workbook into practice. Workshops that explain the book and allocate time for completing the ratings are necessary for better participation
- More educational programs on plant and soil nutrition, irrigation and water allocation, and pest management (including disease, insects, weeds, and animal) are needed
- Refreshers on proper pruning practices, including balanced pruning methods
- Specific Workshops on pest management, pruning, plant and soil nutrition, canopy management (including crop load management, shoot and leaf thinning, and crop load estimation), and irrigation are needed to get current growers up-to-speed on the latest strategies for improving overall vineyard and fruit quality.Pest management – During the course of this project the evaluators saw too much disease, insect damage, and poor weed control. Some vineyards were good, but most were poor. It seems there is a lack of understanding about the prevalent pests, timing of control, and products used for control. This is an area that, with a little diligence, can really help vine health and fruit quality.
Pruning – One outstanding problem among so many vineyards was poor pruning practices. Some obviously had no idea how to prune. It is a skill that takes practice and a keen eye, but it is not a difficult thing. Some untrained vineyard managers are scared to make a cut because they don’t want to remove too much. This is a common mistake. Along with proper pruning is estimation of bud and cane winter injury. Of course it may not be necessary every year, but in years where temps drop very low it is important to do this in order to ensure vine balance.
Plant and soil nutrition – Nutritional status of the plant and soil may be the area that is least understood in Oklahoma vineyards. It is important do deal with the health of the vine and the soil. Petiole and soil tests cost money and are often considered “optional”. They should not be. They are a mandatory part of any good management program; however, the manager must be educated in methods to improve nutritional problems.
Canopy Management – Canopy management is a labor intensive endeavor if leaf-pulling, shoot removal, and crop load dropping is done. This is a definite area that needs improvement in Oklahoma. However, this topic is secondary to the three above because those have so much bearing on vine longevity. Canopy management also affects that, but not as critically as the others.
Irrigation — Irrigation is not being used to its full potential in Oklahoma viticulture. The vines can survive without irrigation, but they will be better off with a good irrigation management program. Tools exist within the Mesonet that along with good soil moisture monitoring would reduce vine stress and improve overall vine longevity.
Since much of Oklahoma viticulture is predicated on winegrape production, the end product must be considered. What makes Oklahoma wine different from its competitors? What makes Oklahoma wine special? Is it, or can it be, integrated into the social fabric of Oklahoma’s citizenry? If the products and industry as a whole are embraced by the public as a critical component of the state’s heritage, then long-term sustainability will be achieved. This requires an understanding of the state’s history as well as an acute perception of its future. All wineries and vineyard owners must work together as a team. It is essential to recognize that one in-state winery is not in competition with another. The competition is out-of-state wine. This leads back to the point of making Oklahoma wine special. How can it be made an essential point of pride for Oklahomans?
- Please continue to support OSU’s viticulture and enology efforts.
- Contribute your voice to an industry organization and keep abreast of what is happening in the industry now.
- Growers and wineries need to stick together and display a unified front to legislators. Find a way past the differences and work together. To be honest, other states have really gotten their acts together and formed cohesive state organizations that get a lot done. It might be a good idea to talk with leaders from other states that are on a similar scale to Oklahoma (like Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, etc. to find out what they are doing that is successful).
- Stay positive. Oklahoma is a difficult place to grow grapes, but it can be done (with proper variety selection, site selection, management, and education). Setbacks will happen, but Oklahoma has a terroir different from anywhere else, so it is exciting to be able to taste that through the grapes. “Taste Native Oklahoma” is something to strive for. Will it be possible to have an industry built entirely on Oklahoma grapes? I don’t know, but with a positive attitude anything is possible.
- Continue a life-long education in viticulture.