August – what an exciting month at the vineyard!

An update from Rich Williams – Vineyard Manager

Vines in the fog
Vines in the August fog
August has delivered some warmer weather with a bit of rain and fog thrown in but always cleared up to be nice and warm days. We had some 80km/hr winds earlier in the month but has been mostly settled and fine. The grass has greened up and the sap is starting to flow in the vines as we gear up for bud burst. I have experienced some quite strange occurrences in and around the vineyard. I have seen rabbits in trees eating high up in the briar bushes! No kidding! As well as this, upon digging in the Lakefront block found a vine root actually growing through the middle of a small rock! There must have been some tasty nutrients on the other side of that rock that the vine root wanted. Nature never fails to surprise.

We have made good progress with the pruning this month. The Top Block is all done and looking really good. The Sav Blanc on the steep Ski slope is 90% finished. The Savvy has been cane pruned which utilises the more fertile buds on the cane to ensure the best yield as Sav Blanc tends to produce infertile buds on the first two nodes. I was a bit worried initially that the canes wouldn’t be long enough to have a decent crop and also invigorate the vines into developing some good strong healthy growth for the coming season. We have been especially careful here with cane length and bud numbers as to not put too much stress on these plants. I’m amazed that they have turned out so well and given some accurate and early shoot thinning I think the Savvy will come through well this year. We will finish off the tying down next week as I want to get some rain on the brittle canes to ease the wrapping process. This has allowed us to move up to the Fruit Bowl and finish off the Gewurztraminer. This block also is looking really good and is such a challenging block to manage as there are quite different light and heavy soils through here with differing soil moisture content but this will only add to complexity once we gain control over them. This has been achieved by careful selection of well spaced spurs and a mix of cane on heavy soil to match vine vigour to capacity. The crew has done a great job accentuating wire fill through here as well which should provide a more appropriate tonnage and a little more wine for the people who love it. I’m looking forward to seeing how this block performs through the season. I still have concerns about the drainage through the centre of this block and I’m tempted to dig some drainage pipe through here under the vines which would remove excess water runoff from the buildings through the block and then allow for additional irrigation to be given to the drier parts giving better consistency.

Two of the Aquaflex soil moisture strips have been installed and the third will be installed in the coming week when a concrete decision is made on its position. The other moisture strip has been installed in the top irrigation block of the Ski Slope in the Sav Blanc just above half way. I was a bit afraid to start digging here as there are plenty of large rocks strewn around the surface however upon digging it was a different story. Soil tests have revealed the Ski Slope is one of the heaviest soils on top, however I got a big surprise when I found it was sitting on coarse golden sand and was easy digging down to 650 cm. Root distribution was still in the top 5-35cm of soil though vine size was quite small. Just to back up the complex nature of the soils here, I replaced a broken post about 50 meters downhill and the soil was instead 15cm of sticky yellow/red clay on top of gravel and large rocks.

Counts for replants have been done and old spray guards around older vines have been removed to tidy the place up. Vines of appropriate clone and rootstock will arrive in the next couple of weeks to fill up the gaps. Things to come in the next month will be the ongoing task of removing metal pins, vineyard maintenance, sheep grazing, and fertiliser spreading, replants and then of course budburst at the end of September.

Niel Kinsey & Rich
Neil Kinsey & Rich

I’m also just back from Dunedin attending Neil Kinsey’s “Principles of soil fertility” course based on the Albrecht system. It was an amazingly informative and detailed course and Neil had some funny stories to tell while we listened attentively to soil stuff over the 10 hour days. He reminded me of Colonel Sanders of the soil.

I’ve come back to the vineyard with many new ideas and confirmation that most of what we are doing is headed in the right direction. The detail I’ve collected may bee too much for this blog but it will keep Robin and the team entertained for the next few weeks. The main message however was “we should first treat the soil, then the plants”!