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Lindsay M. Jordan, Thomas Björkman and Justine E. Vanden Heuvel

In the cool and humid climate of the northeastern United States, vegetation is typically maintained between the rows of wine grape (Vitis vinifera) vineyards, but the area directly beneath vines is conventionally kept bare using herbicides or cultivation, to reduce competition for water and nutrients. Yet with rising concerns of herbicide resistance, environmental contamination, and soil erosion, alternatives to maintaining bare ground in vineyards should be considered. In warmer and more arid climates, using cover crops as an alternative to bare soil has sometimes resulted in reduced vine growth and yields. In more cool and humid climates, like in the northeastern United States, where conditions can promote excessive vine growth, replacing bare soil with under-vine cover crops was hypothesized to improve vine growth characteristics and fruit quality from reducing excessive vigor. This study compared three annual under-vine cover crops of resident vegetation (RES), buckwheat (BW) (Fagopyrum esculentum), and annual ryegrass (ARG) (Lolium multiflorum), planted in the 1-m-wide strip directly under vines at the start of each growing season, against the conventional weed-free under-vine row maintained with glyphosate. The experiment was established in 2011 and repeated in 2012 and 2013 in a 20-year-old block of ‘Riesling’ wine grapes (clone 198 on S04 rootstock) in a commercial vineyard in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. Harvested grapes were fermented in duplicate using standard white wine procedures. Among the four under-vine treatments, no significant differences were found in measures of vegetative growth, yield, petiole nutrient concentrations at veraison, or predawn and midday stem water potentials. Under-vine treatments were not found to significantly affect soil organic matter, aggregate stability, and nutrient concentrations. Juice characteristics were also not significantly different among treatments. In this study, the mature vines in this rain-fed ‘Riesling’ vineyard likely had a well-developed and extensive rooting system that was able to overcome any competition effects for water or nutrients from the comparatively shallow root systems of the annually established cover crops. Without any induced competition in the conditions of this study, under-vine cover crops had no effects on vine growth, yield, or juice characteristics when compared with conventional herbicide use in the under-vine row. When multidimensional scaling (MDS) analysis was used to determine differences in aroma among wine treatment replicates, treatments were found to significantly impact the perceived aromatic properties of the wines, even though no measures of growth or juice characteristics were affected. Using under-vine vegetation may be a viable alternative to conventional herbicide use for vineyard floor management in mature wine grape vineyards in cool and humid climates.