As the sun rises over leafy grapevines still wet from the downpour the night before, Emily Jones slides into her Polaris Ranger Crew XP 1000 to make her morning rounds. She opens the tip-out windshield so she can feel the breeze and slowly makes her way through her vineyard’s long, muddy rows. Stopping occasionally to clip off a few plump red grapes, she lays them in an old milk crate she keeps in the cargo box with other tools.
“We just got a lot of rain, and we’re checking to see if the numbers — the sugar and pH levels — match what the wine team is looking for,” she says. “I’ll drive up a row and randomly pull out a cluster. The closer we get to harvest, the more frequently we do it. Right now, the Cabernet is close, but nothing else is ready. With so many varieties of grapes and so much ground to cover — 65 miles of vineyard rows — I’d never be able to get this done without the Ranger. It’s an indispensable tool.”
As vineyard manager of Slate Mill Wine Collective and Slate Theory Winery in the Texas Hill Country outside of Fredericksburg, Jones, 27, oversees the day-to-day farming operations for the family-owned business — 150 acres of vineyards spread over four locations, with more than a dozen varieties of grapes planted in blocks, like the squares of a quilt.
“I’ve never been so busy in my life,” says Jones, who landed the job three years ago, right out of college with a viticulture degree from Texas Tech University. She met her future husband, Chase, also 27, on her first day of work; when his family bought the business, she helped them expand.
“I don’t really have a title because we’re family,” she says. “I do whatever I need to do that day. One day, I might be in the vineyard training grapevines; another, I might be taking pictures for social media or contacting people for marketing opportunities. I wear a lot of hats.”
No matter what the task or the season demands, her roomy Ranger Crew XP 1000 helps her get the job done — and the family business depends on it.
Save Time with a Work UTV
In planting season in the early spring, Jones drives her Ranger through the 9-foot-wide rows of young plants, making frequent stops to secure them to rebar to help the vines grow upright. The powerful hauling muscle of the Ranger reduces the number of trips she’d otherwise have to make and the number of people required.
“We can get 300 pieces of rebar at a time in the back of the Ranger,” she says. “It’s a beast. We’ll lay out the rebar and then go back to install the grow tubes. It would be really heavy labor and a lot of walking back and forth without the Ranger. It reduces the need for manpower when we’re covering so much acreage.”
By late spring, it’s time to lay down irrigation lines; once again, the Ranger Crew XP 1000 turns a labor-intensive task into an easily manageable one. Its receiving hitch in the back can even haul large, awkwardly shaped, 40-pound spools.
“I loathed running irrigation lines,” Jones says. “But I learned that if we tie the end of the line to the end post of the row, and put the spool on the back of the Ranger, it unravels perfectly, and we just cut it and untie it. It’s so much better than lugging a roll of irrigation tubing across the fields, where it gets twisted, and we have to keep untwisting it. It’s a time-saver and a labor-saver — we just hitch up a spool to it and go.”
It can motor through unpredictable terrain, too.
On any given day, rain or shine (her Ranger Crew XP 1000 is equipped with a Utv roof Jones trusts the Ranger to safely get her where she needs to go, whatever obstacles may arise.
“Some fields are rocky with a lot of granite and limestone. Some are muddy,” she says. “And there are a couple of creek crossings. I’ve never had an issue with it getting stuck. It’s so easy to drive, and it’s so smooth. We’re going from field to field, hitting random bumps, and we can’t even feel them, which is crucial. We go through mud and take turns that some other vehicles can’t take. The Ranger’s so easy to drive.”
Crop Scouting with a UTV
Most recently, Jones has been using her Ranger to scout the rows of grapevines, sample fruit, and haul rocks out of the rows before harvest begins. Texas Hill Country has received more rain than usual this year, which can bring on pests and disease. As she cruises through the rows, now filled with fat, nearly mature grapes, she looks for mold, mildew, and persistent pests like grasshoppers, all of which can appear overnight and quickly destroy a harvest.
“Right now, we’re always scouting,” she says. “There’s a multitude of fungus and bacteria we look out for. It’s very humid, and we also have to watch for pests, so we can get in and spray. I can’t decide if we drive the Ranger more in the spring when we’re planting or if we use it more when we’re prepping for harvest. It’s a toss-up. We use it every single day.”
*All riders should always wear helmets, eye protection, protective clothing and footwear.