Nov 3, 2022
As a vineyard advisor across the United States, Fritz Westover, Viticulturist at Westover Vineyard Advising and host of the Virtual Viticulture Academy, has the opportunity to see a lot of different vineyards, varieties, diseases and climates. Much of his work in recent years is in Texas. This large state about the size of France has a number of challenges including rain that is not seasonal, Pierces Disease, late spring and fall freezes, hail, and poor water quality. Fritz and Craig, both former staffers with Vineyard Team, discuss a variety of practices that impact the long-term sustainability of a vineyard including leaching salts, why irrigation systems are important in wet climates, and the number one way to manage disease.
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Craig Macmillan 0:00
Our guest today is Fritz Westover viticulturist with Westover Vineyard Advising and the virtual viticulture Academy. Is that right?
Fritz Westover 0:10
That's correct, Craig.
Craig Macmillan 0:11
He's got some other things in the in the works that we'll maybe talk about a little bit later. Fritz and I have known eachother for a long time. And actually, we had the same job
Fritz Westover 0:19
That we did that we did that we did.
Craig Macmillan 0:21
He is based in Texas, lives in Houston. But he works in all parts of the country. You're you're all over the place. What different states do you work in in these days?
Fritz Westover 0:30
Yeah, Craig, thanks, again, for having me on the Sustainable Winegrowing Podcast, love to be here. Actually, it's my second time. So this is really an honor to get to get invited back. I didn't screw it up too bad the first time. So I appreciate that. You know, to answer your question, I work primarily in Texas, that's where I'm currently office in Houston. Got a great airport. So I do go to other parts of the country. The second largest area working would be Georgia, primarily in the north mountains of the state of Georgia, I also do some consulting a little bit in some of the states in between Louisiana, Alabama, and some virtual advising that I've started doing, where I'm actually, you know, on site to see the site to understand it, but I'm not there on a frequent visitation basis, like I am, in, let's say, Texas, or Georgia. So those are the primary areas I'm working. And they have a lot of things that overlap. And they have a lot of differences. So the cool part is I get to see a lot of different scenarios, varieties, climate and challenges.
Craig Macmillan 1:26
So let's, let's start with Texas, obviously, we're very interested in sustainability, and sustainable approaches to problems, roadblocks, obstacles, issues, and every region that I'm familiar with anywhere, they have different sustainability issues and hurdles, you know, you say like, oh, here, we're doing this in a sustainable way to do it. And these other people, people are like ah that't not going to work for us. So they're trying to find a different way. So in the case of Texas, which I understand is now not just the hill country, it's quite a broad spectrum of climates and soils and whatnot. What are some of the challenges that Texas growers and these different regions are facing?
Fritz Westover 2:03
Yeah, great question. And, you know, if you look at Texas, it's a state roughly the size of France. So there's a lot of different growing regions in Texas, anywhere from the Gulf Coast region to which is you know, the eastern part of North Texas. Closer to Oklahoma, there's grapes grown that far north and Texas to hill country, which is outside of Austin, Fredericksburg, San Antonio, that's probably where the majority of wineries are, and also a large concentration of vineyards. And then the majority by far of grapes grown in Texas are grown on the High Plains region, which is West Texas, or northwest on the High Plains. That's about 3000 to 4000 feet above sea level. So we have a lot large range and climate and topography and rainfall. I mean, we can get 40 inches in East Texas a year and 10 inches in West Texas a year. And we haven't had that much unless Texas this year, there's been a drought that's affected growers,
Craig Macmillan 2:58
How much of that rain is during the growing season?
Fritz Westover 3:00
Okay, so in Texas, the rain can come at any time. It's not necessarily seasonal. So we don't have the luxury of saying, hey, you know, harvest is done, we should be getting some rain. Now let's plant a cover crop, and let the soil profile fill for the winter. In fact, sometimes we have to irrigate in the wintertime to keep our profile moist. In other times, it's raining, right at harvest or right before harvest or right at bloom when you don't want rain necessarily in a vineyard setting. But in terms of sustainability, if you start on the east part of Texas, and that's our example we're using now we have severe Pierce's Disease there. So there are only certain hybrids of wine grape that are resistant or tolerant Pierce's disease that you can grow there. So if you're growing those varieties, it's almost like here's this disease is not an issue, right. So you've kind of found a way around that. But then you get into the hill country more in Central Texas and we're growing vinifera there anything from Bordeaux varieties to Spanish or Portuguese varieties, Italian varieties are growing there as well. And so Pierce's Disease is a big issue with those varieties. And so is the erratic weather patterns, like seasonal rain, hail, things like that. I think the best example, though, would be to just jump right up to the high plains, because I can look back at my consulting in the last four years. And one year, we had a terrible, devastating late spring freeze. And that happens frequently, maybe two or three out of every five years, we have sites getting hit by late spring freeze, and it takes out a majority of the crop. So now you see these orchard right or other types of fans going up. And those are there for when we have, you know, a radiational freeze, we can we can hopefully skirt through that. So you put these expensive fans up, you solve the problem. And then the next year, you think you've got that you get through the freeze, there's no freeze at all late spring, right? And then all of a sudden, you're just at the point where you finish shoot thinning all of your vines and everything's perfect and set for the year. And then it hails and then you get a hailstorm takes up all of all of your crop for the year and set you back another year. So then what are we doing? We're putting up helmets and a lot of vineyards in West Texas now. So you put up the hill net And that solves with a physical barrier, the hill issue. So now you got the fans for the late spring freeze. You've got the netting for the hail, which also can protect from birds and other things. We're using that year round. So the next year comes up, we don't get away spring freeze, we don't get a hail. What we had instead was this freeze in the fall and early fall freeze, where it got down in October, late October, just after harvest got down into the 20s, which doesn't seem like it should do a lot of damage. But I mean, it will if vines are not cold hardy and ready for it. It's devastating. I wrote a little bit about that and wine business monthly for an article a few months ago and summarized it. But the summary here is that it wholesale killed vines, took vines down to the graft knocked out cordons, and there's a lot of retraining that needs to be done. So now the question is, okay, what's the variety of grape we can plant that's late bud burst right to get past the spring freeze late spring freeze that harvest early. So we had time to harden off for the winter and not get hit by that early fall freeze. And, you know, is bulletproof and doesn't get hit by hail? Right. That'd be nice. But that's,
Craig Macmillan 6:03
I was gonna say it's hail resistant. I can't wait to see the plant breeding on that one.
Fritz Westover 6:07
Yeah,right. Oh, by the way, consumers have to love the wine made from it, and it has to be a good yielder. Okay, is that too much to ask Craig?
Craig Macmillan 6:14
No,? the plant breeding community can take care of that I'm I'm concerned.
Fritz Westover 6:19
I hope you're right. We could use it. I'd like to get invited to their to their planning meeting, I can give them some input. Those are some examples. But you know, Pierce's Disease, water is a big thing. Just like in California, we you know, we have limited water supplies in certain areas of the state, I'm sure you'll you'll want to touch on that. And, you know, its water quality, too, is an issue in some areas. But the really the erratic changes in climate that we see from year to year, it's, there's, you know, there's always a surprise, if you don't like the weather, just wait an hour, and it'll change.
Craig Macmillan 6:51
I'm glad you brought that up. Because I am a big believer in if you plant the right plant in the right place. That's how you address a lot of sustainability issues. So for instance, California, what we've done is we planted lots and lots of Chardonnay in areas that are like perfect, prone for powdery mildew, you know, it's 75 or 80, every single day year round. There's coastal fog is just designed to have disease and you look at it and you're like, Oh man, what maybe we shouldn't be doing that we could cut our chemical load down and we weren't planting this plant in this environment. But the problem is it makes great wine wine quality, that's where you want to be, you know, and so there's some tension there. I am very interested in this variety selection piece. So for instance, I understand that I don't know in detail in Texas, I don't really do grow vinifera you mentioned but they also grow alleles hybrid. So things like Marechal Foch I think it's pronounced, Frontenac or sac showing my my lack of knowledge. Are those working out viticulturally and then are they also working out from a wine quality standpoint of wineries buying these making products that people are buying because that would be like this, your solution is finding varieties that are going to tolerate. Can you turn that around then into a product. How's that going?
Fritz Westover 8:07
to be exact in Texas, there's there are not a lot of hybrid vineyards, it's mostly vinifera. However, if you go to the Gulf Coast region, that is where we do, we do grow primarily Pierce's Disease tolerant hybrid. So that would be blanc Du Bois or Lenoir. And then there's some of the Andy Walker, Dr. Andy Walker, UC Davis, PD tolerant that 98% 97% vinifera varieties that are just now being planted. I mean, we're just at the pioneering stages for those in both Texas and in Georgia, where we have high PD or Pierce's disease pressure, the blanc Du Bois, the Lenoir, the things that have been growing for 25 years now or more have established a market and it took that time to do it. Right. So really, the question is, as these new varieties and the new breeding programs come out with grapes that have tolerance to Pierce's disease, or tolerance to cold, or tolerance to whatever it might be rootstocks that tolerate nematodes and salt, you know, that's, that's a rootstock issue. But when it comes to the variety of the thing that we're putting in the glass that we make the wine from these newer ones, are not quite as proven. So we're gonna have to have this learning curve of where they're best suited, because here's the thing. You take this variety of grape, that's mostly vinifera, and it happens to be have the single gene resistance for Pierce's disease. So you say okay, great, that's gonna work for now, let's put it in the vineyard in the gulf coast of Texas or West Georgia, or South Carolina or whatever, Alabama, you name it, wherever there's Pierce's disease in the southeast, and that's all good, and well, it probably won't die from Pierce's disease, but it's still going to get powdery mildew, which other hybrids are very resistant to, it's still going to get downy mildew, which we have various levels of resistance to it's still going to get black rot, it's going to get phmompsis and then it's all that all the trunk diseases. So I mean, you you think about hard places to grow grapes. It's like when I moved to California back in 2013 to work with the Vineyard Team I thought, man, how am I gonna help these grammars in California, you know, they've been doing this for so long, but they have problems just like anywhere else. In fact, I would argue I almost cringe at the say it, they have less problems. You know, the first as far as diversity of pathogens, at least, let's just say it's safe to say that than we do here east of the Rockies just because of those diseases that I've mentioned. Here, you solve one problem, and then you have five other problems that pop up that you didn't anticipate, and you then need to solve. So there's there's going to be, oh, five to 10 years before we know which of the UC Davis Any Walker selections are going to thrive in all these new environments that growers have not been growing grapes for very long and because of Pierce's disease, and now all of a sudden, you say, sure, you can grow grapes now, but there's a but but no one's done it yet. No one's done it yet. And you're gonna be a pioneer.
Craig Macmillan 10:50
You're a visionary, or you're a crazy person, you know, depends on which way it goes.
Fritz Westover 10:54
Those crazy people, they help the next person learn what didn't work and what not to do.
Craig Macmillan 10:59
Just what we're talking about Pierce's Disease, Pierce's Disease has turned out everywhere to be a very difficult thing to manage in a sustainable fashion. First of all, why don't you tell us what Pierce's Disease is?
Fritz Westover 11:10
I'm so glad you asked Craig, I was gonna say we should probably talk about what Pierce's Disease is.
Craig Macmillan 11:14
I think our listeners are probably pretty sophisticated.
Fritz Westover 11:17
I think so too. I think so too. But here's for that new vineyard manager fresh out of a place that doesn't have Pierce's Disease. It is a bacterial pathogen, and it's Xylella fastidiosa is the name of the pathogen, and it's transmitted vectored I should say, and transmitted into the vineyard from native grape vines. But the vector itself is the most famous is the Glassy Winged Sharpshooter. These were introduced to California many years ago and became the target of a large campaign to eradicate Glassy Winged Sharpshooter. But there's other xylem feeding insects that can also transmit this disease. So basically, an insect feeds on a wild grape that has tolerance to this bacteria and the bacteria are then moved into the vineyard. When the insect then flies into the vineyard and Glassy Winged Sharpshooters can fly a mile or more, they fly into the vineyard and they feed on the the xylem of that the nifer a vine that's susceptible and they transmit this bacteria into the xylem. It's a xylem limited bacteria that kind of clogs the veins like gives the vine a little bit of a plumbing issue. And there's toxins produced by it that cause symptoms like leaf scorch. leaf blades fall off leaving matchstick petals or petals attached to the vine, there's uneven maturation of the paradigm. And then there could be fruit shrivel. So I usually look for two or three of those symptoms before we rogue vines and pull them out of the vineyard, there's no cure for the disease, you have to pull the vines out so it doesn't spread, either replant or deal with the missing teeth, so to speak out in the vineyard. So it's a very big problem in the southeastern United States, you need cold weather to kill both the bacteria populations. Also, I guess, really just the insect vectors, they're also affected by these cold temperatures. So we found that, you know, you get south of pretty much North Carolina, Georgia, these areas are kind of in that transition where a good cold winter or two in a row will knock it back. But a warm winter to it starts coming back out in the vineyards. And so we see it even in the north Georgia mountains almost as far as Tennessee, it's it's really something that's that's moved around and found its niche. It's kind of working in the background, they're waiting for the right conditions.
Craig Macmillan 13:26
So what kinds of things are growers doing in these high pressure areas? And there's super high pressure areas in California as well, because of riparian areas where the insects hanging out, what are people doing? What are people trying, I can think of a couple of things that you could try. But I'd like to know what people are actually doing.
Fritz Westover 13:39
The most obvious we already talked about as growing tolerant varieties that Pierce's disease might infect, but it doesn't move around in his island and cause vine death, like it would to vinifera. So growers are used if they're growing vinifiera, or susceptible grape varieties, there's the possibility to use insecticides to control the vector. So you're a medical imidicloprid based products that are designed for either a spray, or most notably through injection through irrigation. And that's going to give a little bit more longer residual activity to deter the feeding. So the really, the plan is to know when those vectors are coming in. And there could be about 30 to 40 vectors in the southeastern United States. It's not like California that's got one or two major vectors, we've got, you know, 30 at any given time, so the pressure is really high in comparison. And so those insecticides would need to be time for peaking when the populations come in. And then you got to make sure you're careful about pre harvest intervals and things like that. So there's knockback sprays. There's the soil application that's done. These are not restricted use products, but they're certainly conventional products. They're not organic. Some of my growers who are trying to spray less conventional will use products like surround which is a kaolin clay and there's been some reported efficacy on on his island feeding insects. It disturbs them and they don't like to crawl around in the clay also I have some revers using that in hot hot climates also just to keep some shade or sunscreen on the grapes in the fruit late in the season too. But you know, correct when it rains during the growing season, you could put kaolin clay up one day, and it rains off after an inch of rain three days later. So we have those challenges too. And then of course, you know, there's there's trap crops you could consider. But I haven't seen anyone really successful using that just elimination of host grape vines near the vineyard, just trying to make the habitat less thriving for both the vectors and for the bacteria that live inside the wild grape vines. So we put a lot of focus on looking at the surrounding environment in addition to what we're doing in the vineyards.
And so people can actually go into those areas and rogue out host plants are ones that are popular host plants.
If you own the property and there's some muscadine grapes wild muscadine or rotundifolia growing in the woods, and it's right next to the vineyard on a fence line growing along the fence line. That's probably not a good idea. So yeah, you would want to go in and rogue those vines that are around the perimeter at the very least.
Craig Macmillan 16:02
What about setback well Glassy Winged Sharpshooter, this clearly isn't going to work? And I don't know if that's the primary, you said you had like 3040 factors. But when ideally it was been kicked around was not planting close to habitat. So leaving large barriers, now you're losing land as a result of that. Sure, or people tried that. And we didn't get exposed to that?
Fritz Westover 16:21
Yeah, sure. When you're when you're choosing a site for a vineyard, Craig, you're always looking to distance yourself from any problems, whether it be a floodplain, or possible vectors of disease, or host plants. So sure, but the idea is that eventually, an insect that can fly a mile is going to find the vineyard, you just need to know the symptoms, know what to look for, and be proactive at removing it. And testing for it. If you need to test I've gotten to the point where I can look at it visually, and I don't need to do testing anymore, which might McGregor's love, because it saves the money. But occasionally, we test to just validate that because every new girl I work with, we always do a test to show Yes, this is absolutely positive, we see the symptoms, and we've tested it. And now we're comfortable with calling that by because there are other things that can look like Pierce's Disease. And you know, we always talk about these as educators, you don't just talk about the problem you talk about, what are the things that it could possibly be, you know, when someone sees a leaf scorch, you know, well, it could be drought, it could be wind, it could be heat stress, you know, you could lose the leaf and have a matchstick pedal. If you have deer going to your vineyard eating leaves, they leave matchstick petiole symptoms, right. But that's only one of the four key symptoms. So yeah, we're going to be looking for the symptoms, and we're going to be roguing. And we're also going to be distancing, and we're also going to be trying to rogue the problem from the surrounding environment.
Craig Macmillan 17:38
So you got a lot of options, rather than just trying to spray yourself out of it. Yes, we've got a lot of tools, and they're not all chemical. There's cultural practices. Vigilance is always again, probably one of the key pieces to any pest management issue in any sustainability issue. I want to shift gears and talk about water. You know, my career has been strictly in California, where it doesn't rain. It does, like it doesn't rain
Fritz Westover 18:03
It Just doesn't rain as much as you want it to exactly when you want it to right.
Craig Macmillan 18:08
It's actually raining outside right now, we're almost done with harvest, but not quite. I heard early. And usually we get rain. This is like a record rain right now. Not a lot, but enough, but a lot of these other places in the United States, they get some rain, I was talking to somebody the other day about using undermined vegetation as a way of managing the increases in the water from the rains and trying to, you know, kind of have a plant help you out. And to get this dried out a little bit. You mentioned that like in Texas, for instance, if I understood correctly, you know, rain can come in any time. How do you manage that when in terms of like disease pressure or find bigger things like that? What What can you do? Is there anything that you can do that any management strategies for that kind of thing?
Fritz Westover 18:47
Sure that you know, Craig, there's lots of management strategies and they all start at dormant pruning, just like you know, you know, any good vineyard management starts with pruning, to get the right spacing of your shoots and positioning. And then it goes into your thinning and other practices that we all know and love and viticulture, and if you keep on top of that, and can create a microclimate and when we say microclimate, we mean the real scientific microclimate that area right around the grape cluster, right? Not the site, not the misoclimate, like commonly is called the microclimate. But, but that area, right?
Craig Macmillan 19:21
I've given up on that. By the way. It's same thing I was trained and it's like it's not microclimate. It's a misclimate. It's a music climate. And now I'm just like, whatever.
Fritz Westover 19:28
Yeah, after a while you get kind of worn down. It's like trying to describe the difference between grape varietals and grape variety. Because, you know, yes. Oh, yeah, that drives you crazy as a plant person. So it's been I feel like I'm taking crazy pills. It's a variety of grape varietals. That's the wine. So we digress. We digress. We digress. I have to remind me the question now, Craig, you'll have to remind me.
Craig Macmillan 19:50
You get rain at different times of the year. Yeah, some of it during the growing season. This creates its own kind of management problems. What kinds of things can you do and I know it's going to depend on the storm and what's out there and when it happens, but I have no experience with this. I'm very interested in you just pray. I mean...
Fritz Westover 20:08
Well, let me give you an example. Yeah, the northern Georgia grape growers this year had over 50 inches of rain from bud burst. And they're in their inversion, the pasteurization, they're at 18 to 20 bricks, maybe two weeks away from harvest, they've had over 50 inches of rain during the season at random times, sometimes raining for five to seven days in a row, sometimes raining for 10 days in a row. And I was just there visiting all the vineyards looking at dissecting and reverse engineering all of their spray programs there canopy management, there are some venues I walked into that were completely clean. I mean, no fungal disease, no downy mildew, no powdery mildew, maybe a little bird pecking here and there. And then there were some that were absolutely devastated. And so you know, why? Why was that the case? Well, I talked about, you know, good canopy management pruning, it starts at the beginning of the season, you know, when you're working in an environment that absolutely has a high fungal disease pressure, which is the number one thing all other overlying factors aside that we talked about, like Pierce's Disease, or freeze or climate, if you have the right variety match to the right side, but you've just got to control these fungal diseases that grow in the leaves and fruit. It's all about the timing on the applications. And this is true, whether you're a conventional or an organic grower, or whatever you may practice, yeah, it doesn't matter. I mean, you have probably less modes of action as an organic grower because your products are not moving systemically into the plant or into the vine itself. So your reliance on maybe even more spraying, because context sprays like a lot of organic products, or they can get washed off. So what we really hone in on is the critical period for your disease, which is two weeks before Bloom to about six weeks after fruit set. And what we find is if you can control disease on the fruit and the majority of the foliage, and when I say the majority, I mean those bottom leaves all the way up to the top of your VSP wires, if you're doing vertical, shoot those first 10 leaves on the shoot, if you can get those through to verasion, and you can get the fruit through verasion and keep it clean, it'll typically stay clean, and the leaves will have this oncogenic or resistance to disease at that point, they get more leathery, right, they get more harder to infect by a lot of these fungal diseases. So if you can get to that point, you can kind of pull back a little bit and get to the end of the season. Well, timed sprays just before bloom, right after fruit set, keeping in mind matching the product to the disease, right? If we're trying to control detritus, we want to hit that before bloom, and right after fruit set, and then probably again, right before a bunch closure. And if we have challenging conditions from verasion to harvest, we might need another spray from verasion to harvest. And again, conventional or organic, whatever that product is, the timing is still the same. I think what the growers who are most successful have been able to do is really not drop the ball during that critical period, that eight week period, they learn the modes of action of all of their products. Is this systemic? Is it contact, how much rain will wash this off before I have to go out and apply it again, the number one question I get from new growers is, why would I spray right before the rain isn't the rain is going to wash the product off. And the whole point of having that product on before the rain, we always explain it so that it protects the plant tissue or the grapes throughout that wet period. So that an infection doesn't get established. Because once you have an infection in the vineyard established, it is so much harder to go in and eradicate you've got to use different strategies for that. And it cost more. And that disease can linger all the way through harvest, causing loss and leaf area that's going to cause delays and ripening possible quality issues and fruit, you name it. So that's really where I think the successful grower, the one who you know does all the things you're supposed to do in a sustainability program, for example, to keep good records, track the weather data, record how much rain you get, and when and then just be proactive about about the spray program not reacting always. And coming in after after you see an issue or after it's been raining already.
Craig Macmillan 24:04
Now, if I am in an area where I'm getting rain during the growing season, do I still need to irrigate?
Fritz Westover 24:11
Okay, so good question. And, you know, I always recommend vineyards in areas that don't reliably get their 20 to 30 inches of rain in a calendar year, which is, you know, common in the East Coast, for example, that they put in irrigation and I get some kickback from some growers thinking gosh, it rains here, I just want to turn off the irrigation and take the water and we were planting cover crops to remove water from the system. But the irrigation system is not just there for when you're establishing the vines. That's the number one thing if you have a drought year, the year you plant, you could be in trouble. It's a lot of work to water those vines. Number two, you're going to be able to put fertilizer out through drip irrigation system. So whether it be organic or conventional, again, doesn't matter. There's lots of products that are designed to go out and your drip irrigation and that's one of the most efficient ways to deliver a small amount of a product or fertilizer to a vine in a very precise and measured way, which will save costs in the long run and create less runoff and pollution, if you're targeting the grapes, so, so in terms of sustainability, that's really a big tool in my book, and I wish more growers would consider putting in irrigation early in the process. And especially if you're in a Pierce's Disease, high risk area, and you're growing vinifera, then that is one of the major ways to deliver some of our best control measures for Pierce's Disease.
Craig Macmillan 25:30
I'm going to put an irrigation obviously, I'm going to be drawing on some groundwater, groundwater quality varies infinitely from place to place. What are some of the experiences that you've had that caused viticultural issues down the line with different kinds of water quality problem? And were there things to do to improve those because again, well, I had a vineyard once where we were, we had a magnesium problem, we were watering off of a municipal watering system, which was great drinking water. Wonderful. Well, one day I get the report, and the magnesium level in the water was through the roof, not a threat to people, but I was just making a brick, right to the watering more and watering more and watering more, and it was just getting worse. What kinds of things have you seen? And what could you kind of do about it?
Fritz Westover 26:13
Yeah, it's a really good question. As you know, I'm familiar with the a lot of the problems on the central coast there where were you and I both worked, you know, in terms of getting into some Paleolithic waters, that earthquakes now have changed your your water quality and your site that was very good before that occurrence happened. So you have boron, you have high salts, sodium and other salts as well in Texas. And I'll come here because this is the area I live in work in the most, we see issues that are pretty similar. We see boron being high. In some areas, certain aquifers and water sources are high and boron, we see high SAR sodium absorption ratio, that you know, if your SAR levels above six or seven, and you're relying on irrigation water, you're gonna see issues in the leaves, saltburn and decline of the vines, and we can hit 20 or 30 on a SAR in some areas of North Texas. And I've seen in drought years, this was a drought year for Texas. This is a real I mean, it rained in October, November of 2021. And then didn't rain in parts of Texas until about a month ago. And so right now, as we're recording this, we're in September. So until really about variation, no rain. So if you didn't have good quality water, and you're relying 100% on your irrigation and didn't have any rain in the wintertime to flush out salts or leach boron or other things that are a problem that build up in the soil, especially from frequent shallow irrigations. It was a problem. So boron symptoms were showing on leaf margins. So some growers were trying to capture rainwater to alleviate their irrigation issues. But if it didn't rain, that approach did not work. So they're trying to do longer irrigation set so that they don't build up salts in the shallow part of the soil. So that's one strategy, using the wheats leaching fraction, for example, that to push water below, or occasionally do very long sets. And I know, you know, sounds counterintuitive. We have bad water, less water more with it. And with water more, right, yeah, but the thing is, you need to push the salts down below the root zone, if you can, and watering on long sets can do that. So that was the strategy through you know, there's really no solution that I'm aware of for high boron levels, I wish there was one that was reliable, and that that someone could present to me for the salts, we use the irrigation strategy that I just mentioned, to try to push it down below the root zone as much as possible. But there's really beyond that not a whole lot you can there's course there's some soil amendments, I shouldn't say there's nothing some growers tried to displace sodium with gypsum or calcium additions, or by adding organic matter to the soil to try and bind it up or you know, and still have other cations available on the cat on exchange. Some growers are injecting acid using acid injection to try to help with nutrient uptake that sodium sometimes is blocking. There's other things that go well beyond even my understanding of all the chemistry behind it. But I think it's fair to say that the growers who have the worst problems and have that proactive kind of frame of mind have been have been doing some of these things to try and combat it. But really what they're doing Craig is they're saying why isn't it raining? Like it usually does. That solves the problem for me. And it just hasn't happened in the past year here. And it's not to say we won't get back on the normal pattern. We'll just have to see.
Craig Macmillan 29:18
We're running out of time. Unfortunately, we could go on forever. Lok forward to seeing you here in the future. We have the Sustainable Ag Expo. It's put on by Vin, your team coming up in November and you are going to be here for that I believe you're presenting Yes. Yeah. hoping we can connect. I don't see why we can't in just a couple of sentences again, thinking like you're on stage. What one piece of advice would you give to a grape grower in the realm of how to improve the sustainability or how to farm a sustainability as sustainable as possible? And what's your one piece of advice?
Fritz Westover 29:51
But wait, we're not on the stage here. This is a podcast Craig This is one of the largest stages you can get without actually being looking someone in the eye right? This isn't acing who invented this stuff. It's true. So so when I am at Sustainable Ag Expo, my talk is going to be about the long term view on sustainability, it's going to be about things that you can do from the beginning onward, moving the needle a little bit on on some of the fine points that we tend to overlook on a daily basis, because we're focusing on more big picture stuff. So my focus for anyone who wants to start off, and they know that they want to be doing things the right way, 10 years down the road, and they want things to be a little easier for them, it goes back to what you and I've been talking about earlier, the beginning of our conversation, choosing the right varieties, making sure your site selection is all going to work out if you don't have the expertise to do that, you should really find someone who specializes in that, you know, I've drawn upon soil scientists that come out and look at sites and map sites, on projects that I'm working on, you know, we need to bring the team together that can make the right decisions from day one, and choosing your varieties and your rootstocks and making sure your vineyard design is done in a way where you reduce erosion and foresee some of the issues that are going to come up the other thing that that I'll touch on quite a bit at the Sustainable Ag Expo is the the smaller detail things after the vines go in the ground, how we train our first and second year vines, where we make the cuts on those vines for die back and proper healing and preventing infection by by diseases that want to get into our trunks early on and establish and then all the way through to the young vine care. What are some of the things that I see growers making mistakes on that we could be overcoming. And it's really I don't want to say to viticulture 101 because it downplays the importance of it a little bit, when you make it sound. So basic the challenge is, sometimes we know what we need to be doing. But we have trouble conveying that to the workforce that we're using to the contract labor that we're using to our own team. And so I'm going to talk a little bit about a combination of those things about what's important, what shouldn't be overlooked, and how we can make sure we don't overlook it and put a team in place to get it done. Because the establishment will just umbrella that term with the vineyard establishment that first three to five years of getting your cordons developed. Or if you're in a cane pruning system, establishing your renewal zone and, and everything else. I'm super excited about it. I'd be lying to you to say that my talk is ready as of today. But I've got it outlined in my in my mind, and I've got the ideas already in my head that I clearly would love to share.
Craig Macmillan 32:22
And hopefully that will spread. Where can people find out more about you what you do?
Fritz Westover 32:27
Well, I'm available on social media through Westover Viticulture, on Facebook and on Instagram. And as you know, I also do an online vineyard advising and education community that I snuck you into, to kind of see behind the scenes on that and that is known as virtual viticulture Academy. That's really where I share all of my information with growers who are not necessarily my clients that I consult for on a one on one basis. You know, you have all this information, you want to share it with other growers. I know that's my passion is helping growers. And I've been doing that for my whole career. So through Virtual Viticulture Academy, I have a way to get together with that community. For this, those who join and answer their questions in the vineyard and share some of the trials and tribulations the what works and what doesn't work, and give some direct feedback to a community of growers. And what's awesome about that Craig is we didn't just do Virtual Viticulture Academy because of the pandemic. We're in our fifth year, you know, a lot of people went virtual and went online and found new innovative and creative ways to reach their audience, whether it's a grape grower or winemaker in this industry. We've been doing that for five years. And when the pandemic came on, and we weren't visiting sites as much or doing things in person, we just kept on going and kept on teaching and trying to try to make an impact. And just like the Vineyard Tam has been doing with all their great online programs. So so that's one of the things that I've been working on there. And then I'd really letting the cat out of the bag here a little bit. But I think by the time this podcast is released, I'll also be releasing a podcast known as Vineyard Underground podcast. And that's going to be just where I hang out like this and share information through the ear buds about grape growing very similar to what you're you're doing there. Our goal is to have some quick wins that growers can take back to the vineyard. Some practical advice for the everyday grower. Well, we'll get into the science of grape growing but we really want to focus on the how to interviewing growers and getting down into the dirt a little bit into the underground, where things get a little bit hidden and overlooked.
Craig Macmillan 34:26
That's awesome. Our guest today has been Fritz Westover viticulturist with Westover Vineyard Advising, of course, the Virtual Viticulture Academy, and the upcoming Vineyard Underground podcast. Thanks so much for taking the time. This has been really fun. There's going to be links to all the things that he's mentioned in our notes regarding this, this little show here and we hope that you check them out tons of great stuff. One thing that Fritz does really well is communicate to the world. He's got he's got the Twitter, he's got the Instagram, he's got the Facebook, he's got the website really easy to find really great information super useful. We really appreciate everything that you're doing. I think one of the things I just want to say personally is that you know, to the public Fritz has been a an asset to the viticulture community throughout the United States in a way that I can't think of very many other people have been just speaking personally, I really appreciate that because you people who are really passionate about it and are really knowledgeable about it, and here's the piece that are willing to go out, who are willing to get on a plane or willing to get in a truck and really go out and meet one on one with people and then stay connected, whether it's virtual or otherwise, I think is really fantastic. And so you should be applauded for that.
Fritz Westover 35:38
Thank you, Craig, so much for having me and thanks to the vineyard team as well.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai