The Africus Rex winery page has been given the seasonal update again; if
you're interested. I know some have been following the experiment since the
beginning. I'm still getting emails from all over the globe.
Africus Rex has undergone a major, major change in grape growing, as you
will see. Even so, the chage has increased health in the vines in spite of
the garbage weather we've had this summer. Autumn weather has been
extraordianry for ripening conditions.
The web page has changed quite at bit to focus more on the new growing
technique, and will be updated accordingly.
Neat site! Are you able to leave the vines outside in the winter
? Or do you protect them in some fashion? If Cab. Franc can stand
being outside all year, you must have a whole lot milder climate than
we do in Minnesota (also about 45th parallel)!
Jeff, I've been eagerly awaiting this year's update.
Can you talk about why you moved from bonsai to hydroponic growing? You
mentioned improved health; were the vines weak or in danger? or is this
to increase their yield? Did you lose any vines or is the reduced
number just because the pumps and other equipment took up the space?
How do you think the yield of these 12 hydroponic vines would compare
to the 26 bonsai vines of last year?
Thank you for sharing your experiment. You've inspired me to grow my
own vines in pots (two so far, but more planned).
I wait until the autumn cold shuts down the vines and they defoliate. Then I
remove them from the medium, wrap them, roots and all, and store them in a
refrigerator over winter.
Cab franc do survive winters in the Toronto area (and Niagara), but in this
case the nutrient solution would freeze solid and I'd end up with a block of
ice on my roots.
I moved from bonsai to hydroponic because of the greater control over root
nutrition. The nutrient offers total control over pH, oxygen, and
nutritional balance. pH adjustments can be made in minutes rather that days
or weeks. Major and minor mineral elements can be controlled, by increasing
or decreasing elements individually. The root itself has greater growing
space, while using less energy to look for food, and there is zero wilting
during the hot season when evapotranspiration is high.
Bonsai are wonderful looking vines, but yields are limited due to root size
and nutrional uptake. If you are growing a bonsai vineyard for moderate
yield and greater ornamental value, that's the way to go. If growing a
vineyard with yield as the primary objective, hydroponics will deliver.
Yes, I did reduce the number of vines to 12. It wasn't because the
equipement took up space. Rather, I used the extra space as a handy location
to shelter pumps between the vines, etc. It just worked out that way. Even
so, the increased space between vines, plus the nutrient rich solution
allows for more vigorous growth, greater sun contact on individual vines
(less crowding), and oportunity for fewer vines to produce higher yields.
I estimate I will eventually be harvesting greater yeilds with 12 hydroponic
vines, than with 26 bonsai vines. They may not look as cute, but that's the
I'm in it for the wine.
Cost per pound can't be calculated until I know I'm producing maximum
yields. The vines are still young. Each year will produce a greater yield.
Eventually the yield will max out proportionatley to allowable root size.
Cost per vine to set up depends on which system you want to use. There are
several configurations for hydroponics. I am currently working with a static
bubble system. That is a system where the roots are suspended in nutrient
solution constantly bubbled with oxygen.
12 vines are being bubbled by 6 pumps ($16 each; Wal Mart), plus hoses and
reservoirs (minimal costs, $3 for a pail, a buck for hoses, etc). Then
there's auxiliary hardware for electrical wiring, trellising, etc. It's
nickel and dime, but can add up. The greatest cost is the nutrient solution.
Nutrient solutions are concentrated and diluted in water to parts per
million. Maintaining pH and solution concentration requires a pH meter which
varies according to what kind you buy, and an EC meter, which measure the
electrical conductivity of the solution; that is, the concentration of
mineral salts in the water.
Some costs are one-time, others, like nutrients, are regular.
It's the nutrient that requires change every two weeks. Aside from that,
there are other more economical systems like flood and drain: Reservoirs
fill and drain on a timer. The roots are kept wet, but not submurged.
I could go on, but there are countless variations on the same theme.
Can you grow 200 vines? My vineyard is designed for the small scale home
winegrower who can't or doesn't want to grow grapes in soil. However, there
are two vineyards I've hear of doing it large scale. One in Kenya, growing
table grapes, and another in Israel. The website for the one in Israel is:
Interesting stuff. Couple things.
1. I can't get your web site to come up looking "normal". Does it come
up fine in your browser? I've tried Netcape 7.1 AND IE 6.0.
2. How old are those vines and how many gallons of wine did you get
this year from 12 vines?
3. How do the grapes taste compared to soil grown CF. The berries look
GREAT BUT they seem rather big for Cabernet Franc. Does the abundance
of water dilute the flavor? I could see this being great for table
grapes but have you compared the taste to soil grown CF in the area?
4. With hydoponics, can you simulate limestone/shale/other
minerals/etc... in the water?
5. Are your leaves a dark green or is that just the picture that makes
them look light green?
Interested in you answers.
See if your browser isn't set to medium, for text and display size.
The vines are 4 years old. This is the first year in hydroponics. For
adaptation purposes I limited the amount of clusters this year. I limited my
yield to mere liters after crush. I'd thought of thinning clusters to
nothing at all, but wanted to harvest some to see what submersion in water
would do to the fruit.
I took a trip to niagara to compare my clusters with soil grown cab franc on
mature vines and noticed little difference. I took my refractometer with me
to compare Brix. Niagara had a high sugar level, but it was expected since
my vines took off late this year and we've had an eternal spring. Summer was
a bummer. No one got good sugar here this year, and therefore I can't reach
a decent conclusion.
As for flavour. The jury is still out until this first batch is ready to
bottle and age.
Regarding simulating flavors...that too is a matter to be determined.
However, I have heard others suggest it can be done. Even so, the proof will
be in the bottle. There are ways of customizing the nutrient solution to
influence grape flavor.
In the previous post I mentioned the flood and drain system, which keeps the
roots wet, and highly oxygenated, rather than constantly submerged. If
submersion influences sugar, the flood and drain is the solution. Also,
aeroponics is another method which keeps grape roots wet.
Next season I will be employing two methods alternately. Beginning with the
static bubble to maintain turgor pressure for evapotranspiration, and then
switch over to flood and drain in mid to late summer into October to
maintain nutrient levels and cut back on water.
As for leave color. the real leafcolor is all over the spectrum, and I
didn't bother tweeking the tint in the images.