The Season is off to a Flying Start!

Tim Parker – Vineyard Manager
A quick look at the pre-season – Tim Parker, Vineyard Manager

We are just starting the new growing season and it seems budburst will be way ahead of any previous season at Misha’s Vineyard and in fact one of the earliest in Central Otago. Having joined as Vineyard Manager/Viticulturalist at the beginning of June, I’ve now walked over just about all of the 26 hectares of vineyard having hand pruned all 65,000 vines along with our permanent team Aaron and Neil and a cameo appearance from Alan Buckingham.

It’s been good opportunity to take a closer look at the vines as well as the rocky soils on these steep and windswept westerly slopes that overlook Lake Dunstan. What has struck me is that the soils are more complex than I had originally thought with red and yellow clays at shallow levels mingling with gravels and silts. These soils are free-draining but the clay deposits do allow for the capacity to hold water and release it slowly over the hotter months.

Great day for pruning
One of the big jobs over winter was to remove some of the fescue grass that had taken hold in clumps in various sections of the vineyard and potentially depriving vines of water and nutrients as it has a water loving fibrous root system. The best way to remove it was to dig out the clumps rather than using a herbicide. Armed with grubbers, we all went through various blocks in the vineyard digging out these hardy tufts. It’s certainly not an easy job (and we haven’t done all the blocks yet) but I believe it’s the best way to ensure the vines don’t have to compete with these grasses.

With our pruning, it’s been great to have been able to make some small tweaks to how we set up the vines for the coming season. The number of buds left at pruning will determine the shoot density and potential yield.

The Pruning Team
Generally we have pruned to 4 spur sites a side on our spur pruned vines over most of the blocks – where possible. Our Sauvignon Blanc block, which is on the steepest slope of the vineyard with the poorest soils, we are 70% cane pruned with 30% spur pruned. Looking forward, on some of our older Pinot Noir blocks which are spur pruned, we will do some sections of cane pruning so we can re-establish a cordon which generally needs to be replaced every 20-25 years as this is good practice in terms of trunk disease prevention, increasing yield and to prevent the cordons from digging into the wire .

New buds on a “Finger & Thumb” cut
In our Fruit Bowl block where our Gewürztraminer and Riesling are located, there are some very vigorous sections of Gewurztraminer, so I’ve changed some of the pruning to use a “Finger and Thumb” pruning system which is similar to spur pruning but rather than reduce the two canes to a normal two bud spur, the upper cane is retained and shortened to around 4 buds. Gewürztraminer has been a good performing variety from this block and I think this pruning will help balance the vegetative growth whilst also continuing to give us good yields.

Our Dress Circle block, where we grow Pinot Gris, is one of the blocks where we’ve had less than optimal yields over the last couple of seasons. This is unusual as this variety is normally pretty hardy although we have had two difficult seasons due to weather extremes. It is a very windy block which means water evaporates quickly and also this block had a lot of the fescue clumps that we’ve now removed. So with the grass clumps removed, and with a good application of our own compost, along with increased irrigation and nutrition this season, we hope to see an increase in yields for this block.

Discussing the plan
We have started our first sprays of the season as we apply lime sulphur at woolly bud but before we have any green growth as a preventative measure to ensure we eliminate any spores associated with powdery mildew. It’s one of the very few issues that our dry Central Otago climate has, but my belief is to always take preventative action rather than fight a disease once it’s a problem. This is also the right time for replants so we’re putting in about a hundred vines, mainly Pinot Noir Clone 115 and 777 – all on grafted rootstock.

After a very cool 2017 season, and an off-the-charts warm season in 2018, my strategies for the vineyard for this season include ensuring we try and bring everything back into balance after these two extraordinary seasons. I will ensure there is plenty of irrigation on all the blocks and maintain the rate as it looks there was some water stress last year in the unseasonal hot weather. And on our Sauvignon Blanc block, we’ll really turn up the water volume as Sauvignon Blanc vines are much more thirsty than Pinot Noir and these vines grow on a very steep block with a lot of afternoon sun impact. With early indications that this will also be a warm (and early season) I’m planning to increase nutrition to the vines through fertigation and also plan to increase foliar nutrition based around seaweed extracts to help minimise the impacts of weather related stress.

I am really looking forward to the coming season!