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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Making Good Wine: The Vineyard Part One

There are lots and lots of books on choosing a site, preparing the ground, trellis choices and spacing's etc. These comments relate to the vineyard at HHF and how it evolved and how over more than 15 years it came to produce excellent fruit using standard techniques, ideas gleaned from various sources and experiments and observation. Every vineyard site is unique and although there are standardised principles they will vary, sometimes just that little bit or even a lot. It is all to do with the influences of not only soils and climate but also the influences of the surrounding area and structures be they trees, hills, mountains and water features. Experimentation will translate into dividends in quality.

Working full time and pursuing a bucket load of interests simultaneously meant the vineyard didn't always receive top priority every year but it did get pruned and watered and gradually over time shortcomings were eliminated. Continuing pruning and training is the critical task. If not pruned each year it takes a long time to retrain.

When the site was chosen it was an outcome based on a couple of factors. The site was reasonably close to the house meaning it would likely get some attention. A factor that is always important for the small winemaker. The area was an end of the orchard that wasn't needed as all the  fruit trees deemed important at the time were selected and allocated a spot. Being close to the house has really paid dividends allowing a regular inspection with ease.

A local contractor had been employed to deep rip along the contour. 'Deep' really wasn't that deep as the bedrock of shale like rock was only about 600 mm below the surface. The ripping pulled up a lot of rocks which were gradually collected and used as fill elsewhere on the property. In this part of the orchard the contour ran East to West providing a perfectly North facing Vineyard. Who could ask for more. In hindsight ripping both along the contour and counter contour would have been beneficial.

There was no guarantee that vines would survive in this harsh shallow soil and humid climate especially since there was a goal of not spraying chemicals. Consequently little money was invested in trellising. Because it was just experimental only Star pickets and pig mesh were used as they were surplus stock in the hayshed. Very primitive and rough reaching 1000 mm in height at best and sometimes lower. The guide books talked about short trunk height contributing to better grape maturity. By keeping the distances between roots and bunches short there was less travelling for nutrients. This is fine except at picking time when the slightly hunched back begins to hurt. This would be discovered during the first vintage. Vines were spaced at 900mm (3 ft)  intervals. Apparently crowding is good. It stresses the vines forcing a better quality fruit.

After almost a decade of trialling, the trellis system was replaced and the vines retrained to a greater height with fruit at the 1200 level.. This alleviated the bad back problem (sometimes quality must be sacrificed for health). But more importantly the extra height and additional wires to hold the foliage above allowed greater air flow during humid times as well as exposing the fruit to more sunlight an important criteria for better grape quality.

Irrigation was installed but the original pipe size was a minimal 12 mm with drippers. The problem here is not enough pipe diameter to get solid pressure to all drippers resulting in a tedious program of adjustment to all 150 outlets each time the irrigation was used. Eventually this was replaced with 25 mm pipe and two entry points for the water. Now it is a simple 10 minute task to eye ball all 150 with little or no adjustment required. Many vineyards avoid watering which is a great idea if you have deep soil and good weather conditions early in the life of a vine to allow it to establish.

Watering is a necessary evil on this farm. The soil is shallow and the ground dries out quickly. If not watered the vines die. While they were establishing lots of water was applied but gradually the tap was restricted forcing roots deeper and wider. Now watering is strictly controlled especially approaching harvest so as not to dilute the sugars. This is a tricky operation. Too much water and the berries swell with water not sugar and the ratios of everything in the grape distort especially the flavours in the skins. Not enough water and the vine shuts down and fruit stops maturing.

Wood chip mulch around each vine was applied in one of the early years but the chickens soon disposed of them spreading the lot evenly over the entire vineyard.

So there you have it. Planning and preparation are critical but don't guarantee a perfect result. Individual site conditions influence everything involved and gradual modification and adaption is usually necessary.

Next: Making Good Wine: The Vineyard Part Two

This will look at on going vineyard management.

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