Early Season Vineyard Notes

Vineyard Manager Rich Williams gives an update of early summer activities on the vineyard

Rich at the "Scott-Henry method" pruned vines
So far the start of the 2012 season at Misha’s Vineyard has been really mixed. In my last update, rain was falling and we received over 40mm in one day – which is not typical of Bendigo. The dry and even start to the season quickly changed to being varied and wet which more than topped up our soil moisture reserves. Since that rain, the winds have picked up and kept the vineyard crew on their toes ensuring all of the emerging vine shoots are safely tucked up in the trellis where they would be safe…we thought! They survived a powerful south-west wind gusting almost 90km on the 25th of November But then in the early hours of the 28th of November, a big norwestly hit with the intensity of a high-pressure water blaster and it knocked out a few large shoots and damaged some of the leaf structure. We will compensate for this later in the season by manipulating the cropping level to some degree although the vines have a way of repairing themselves by pushing secondary growth to replace lost spur position. This will mean extra work tucking and thinning later. We have also stepped up our irrigation yet again as the ground dries out to evaporation with the winds.

Shoot thinning in the Central Otago sun on Ski Slope

Shoot thinning has progressed very well, starting with the younger vines of the House Block, moving up the vineyard from early areas of advancement. We moved back down from the Top Block to complete the Sauvignon Blanc on the 24th of November. This year we had a team of 15 people who handled the pressure well and since then we have dropped the staff number back to eight (our lucky number!). The crew is predominantly French and I’m hoping they are not here to sabotage our wine! Just as a test, they were given the task of bud rubbing all the suckers from the base of the vines which is really back-breaking work. But these battle-hardened veterans completed the job and I’m now very confident of their best intentions! So with the vineyard now all tidied up, we’re about to carry out our second herbicide spray.

Our French team at work
Our organic trial blocks have given us mixed results and we have learnt a lot since heading towards this spray-free regime. We believe that it’s mainly the age of our vines that are not handing the environmental stress of both the weather conditions and the fragile soils they are on. Perhaps the large area we chose was a little bold for our first trial but we soon narrowed it down to a more manageable area as soon as it was evident that some vines were not performing as well as others. There are marked differences row to row when comparing our two methods of farming. (And the jury is still out on whether organic grapes make better wine anyway!) We have found one of the organic trial blocks has given us some very good control on one of our more vigorous areas – Olly’s prized Abel Pinot Noir vines – and this has lead to less lateral growth and less wind damage as the vines had less turgidity to them hence they could handle the wind a little better. The variation in our soils has been the largest challenge; they just do not have the fertility and structure to support the vines during times of stress. The biggest learning – do not do partial trial blocks of organic vines as it leads to greater variability in the block and is hard to manage! Used as a tool to devigorate those vines in a block where the spring growth has resulted in very fast growth, could be very successful but it is very difficult to give some vines more water and Nitrogen than others and it means that either some will get too much and others not enough. As soon as we saw that some vines were suffering we went through the rows and sprayed the under-vine area with herbicide, removed suckers and dropped bunches on the short shoots to focus the vine’s energy in the right areas but unfortunately they still suffered a little in the process. There will be improvement as flowering finishes and the vines go into a period of accelerated shoot growth but they will not benefit from the same healthy start that the herbicide-treated vines had. Lesson learnt!

Flowering on the "Abel" Pinot Noir vines
We are over half-way through flowering now and things have gone slightly differently this year to last year. Pinot Gris seems to be flowering much earlier than normal but in general the vineyard has flowered consistently from the bottom of the vineyard up to the top. I have found that vines that were cropped slightly heavier are behind the vines that were not. Overall temperatures during flowering have been on the warm-hot side suggesting big bunches which we remember well from last year. The younger blocks have already had bunches on short shoots removed and we’ve also done that on some of the blocks that do reach full canopy height. This should give these vines more strength and energy to promote stronger shoot growth.

We have been on the ball with our sulphur spray regime given the weather conditions – it pays to have your own canopy sprayer so you can spray when you need to. I am happy the vines are receiving the appropriate coverage given the growth, although I will always remain on the edge of my seat after last January’s overcast conditions which required real vigilance to protect against disease. We have begun some lateral thinning and minor leaf plucking on some more advanced blocks to refine the openness of the canopy which will aid in light and spray penetration. So far it is going well but will continue to tuck up growing shoots as required. Generally across the board we have 2 – 3 wires up and just starting to get the wire to the fourth clip height. We may start trimming just before Christmas but I would say the majority will be done after Christmas/New Year. Also this week we will have everything mown and tidy and will be very much up-to-date. I’m looking forward to a stinking hot summer this year! Generally given the weather conditions, the vineyard is looking very good. Fingers crossed for the rest of the season.

All the best for the festive season on behalf of the vineyard staff at Misha’s Vineyard.