Summer on the Vineyard

The Early Summer Update from Rich Williams – Vineyard Manager

Now that spring has officially ended and vines have started to bloom I thought I’d do a bit of an update. Spring has been slightly cooler than normal and wind hasn’t been as strong as it usually is. Frequent rain periods at the start of spring gave us a valuable store of soil moisture which we have been able to use to our advantage. Last year we began the season with a very dry soil profile and had to start regular watering even before budburst. This year I’ve been applying one large amount of water weekly and this has enabled the soil to warm up again in between and has promoted rapid and even vine growth. Though there has been the typical yellowing with the cooler temperatures, the vines have had a reasonably consistent start to the year. Budburst was staggered from its start in the Gewurztraminer on the 18th of September though the majority of the vineyard on permanent cordon was drawn out with periods of rain and cooler soil temperatures.

The crew of casual workers have maintained steady progress as they thinned out shoots starting from the Fruit Bowl before moving to the more advanced House Block, Lake Front, and Ski Slope Pinot Noir blocks. The careful considerate winter pruning has paid off giving a desirable balance through the vineyard and has made shoot thinning the right number of shoots much easier. As the vine shoots grew, the crew were constantly moving through setting canopy wires to protect the shoots from breaking off in the wind. Then we had the usual back-breaking pass through the vineyard removing suckers from the base of the vines.

Shoot growth on Lakefront Block
This year an untimely southerly change brought snow to the surrounding hills and night temperatures plummeted below zero. Many vineyard managers in the region fought the frost with helicopters, wind machines and water with limited success. There was very little in the way of inversion layer and those who did use the first two methods found that they were causing more damage than good by further reducing the air temperature. In some areas there is much more damage to vines cane pruned than on spur pruned (older cordon) which was slightly behind. Also vineyards with well cut grass swards fared better than the ones that let them grow long. For the first time we received some minor damage in a couple of places where the cold air settled. There was a little damage – just a few vines – up by Ah Foo’s house and a little more to the flatter Dress Circle block where the shelter cloth prevented the cold air draining away. Since then we have had some of the shelter cloth removed which I think was doing very little as far as wind protection goes now that the vines are well established. Interestingly on the rows with wind cloth on them there was very little frost damage and on the rows that were recently ripped and had the covercrop planted there was virtually no damage at all as the slightly barer ground enabled more heat to be released keeping the temp’s slightly warmer. Considering we don’t do any frost fighting, the vineyard here came off very well and only emphasises site selection is the most critical call when establishing a vineyard.

On the subject of the trial covercrop, the vines seem to be responding well to the improved soil conditions. Though it is still too early to tell, the vines seem to have a better evenness that the ones that did not have the treatment. There is also a healthier colour to them. The proof will be in the vines ability to hold onto its canopy right through till the end of ripening and to better handle adverse weather conditions such as drought and heavy downpours of rain. The pockets where we had clay that were ripped have improved immensely and what has been brought to the top by the digger simply falls apart in your hand showing increased permeability for water.

Up until last week the vineyard has had below average wind conditions. Since then the wind has picked up causing some chaos. This is totally my fault and I accept responsibility – as soon as I tell Andy that the vines are looking perfect and what a great start they’ve had there is normally a sudden change in the weather pattern! This is why I normally don’t like to comment on whether it is a good or bad season until the wine is in the bottle – call me superstitious! The main problem with wind is the physical damage it can cause to young shoots – even when they are well tucked up. The other problem with wind is the drying effect it has had on soil moisture. I have noticed over the last week when the inter-row started to dry out, just how it started to effect the growth in some of the weaker vines. This has started a little unevenness in some spots though my prayers have been answer with a lovely 14mm of rain so far. This should ensure good moisture as we go into flowering unless the winds decide to persist. On the whole though the vines are in very good condition.

Flowering begins on the Abel clone Pinot Noir
We have a little early flowering in the usual spots – a bit in the Ski Slope Pinot Noir starting on the 28th of November followed by the Abel clone on the Lakefront block and it won’t be long before the House Block Pinot Noir is on its way if it hasn’t done so already. Fingers crossed for some steady and consistent warmth through flowering to promote pollination. Work will continue on wire tucking of which we are starting to get the third wire up across the board. I hope to be starting some work on the canopy interior next week with some lateral removal and we may even do some early season bunch removal. The season is on time as far as flowering goes but maybe a week behind in terms of growth. Given a forecast of nice settled weather pattern, the vines will have no trouble catching up to have another great vintage.

I hope everyone has a Very Merry Christmas and successful 2013!