The important part was the choice of grape. Chambourcin was a hybrid which we knew from the Cassegrain experiments at Port Macquarie could cope with humidity and still produce good red wine. The purchase was on rootstock although any that failed to thrive were replaced with non-rootstock and did well though never as well as rootstock vines. It's just that vigorous rootstock that handles the harsh conditions better. Without the choice of a hybrid it would have been very difficult to maintain a healthy vine without a lot of work protecting against mildew. This was a choice based around keeping the work load to a minimum and avoiding dangerous chemicals.
Feeding grape vines is a similarly tricky operation. Ideally the vines should drop there roots 3 to 4 metres into the ground pulling on the base minerals and transforming them to the unique flavours found in great wines. Seeing as how at HHF the roots go down such a short way (600 mm) before heading off horizontally it becomes a little more interesting. Many viticulturists have limited the amount of feeding so as not to create too much vigour and unbalance the grape flavour. The use of small amounts of cow, sheep or horse manure between the rows is common.
At HHF our soils are acidic and an occasional application of Lime or Dolomite is conducted after harvest every couple of years. Last year some Power Fish a concentrated fish emulsion was applied in a very dilute form via the irrigation system. Two applications were performed. The first as bud burst commenced and the second during flowering. This small intervention seems to have produced an excellent result without over stimulating the vines. The fish emulsion provided some trace elements in minute forms. There is a belief that over stimulating vines with nitrogen will only attract pests to lush growth. Everything moderation is a good guide whether it be lime, trace elements or compost.
Our chickens roam freely in the vineyard and harvest insects as well as leave behind droppings which feed the soil. This seems sufficient to encourage the vines to battle onwards.
Pruning is tailored to variety, conditions, tradition and vine vigour. In the case of HHF the goal is to minimise potential bunches to allow the struggling vines to produce ripe bunches by harvest time. Spur pruning is our choice although the occasional cane pruning occurs on some vines. At flowering time Chambourcin puts out three flower bunches per spur this would result in far too many bunches for the canopy and trunk to ripen. During flowering a regular morning task is to stroll through the vines pinching out all the flowers clusters except the closet to the vine. This reduces the crop by two thirds. Since undertaking this procedure our crops have reached maturity with good sugar levels and excellent skin pigmentation. It is possible to trim green bunches later but it seems pointless to allow a vine to make such a huge commitment of energy when it can be done at a much earlier stage. It does mean our yields have reduced appropriately but quality is beats quantity anytime.
Many vineyards spend time clear cultivating between rows to remove grass competition. This practice is waning and there is a greater movement towards grassed rows, green manure crops that are tilled under or better still legumes which are mown. Bare dirt looks fine until it rains and farm equipment gouges tracks between the rows. This happens so often during harvest leaving a terrible mess of compacted soil. There has been a bit of a trend to use horse drawn equipment in a few vineyards to reduce soil compression but it would be a rarity.
Birds are a pain in the butt once veraison (colour change in the grapes) has commenced. The use of gas cannons is effective in larger vineyards, Hawks are useful and there are sound recordings of predator birds which can be played on loudspeakers. As much as it is hated, netting is the choice at HHF based on cost. It does cause some vine damage. it reduces sunlight and doesn't help during humid days but it works. As soon as bird activity is noted the nets are spread out. This can sometimes be quite late depending on the bird activity in that year. White netting allows the most UV light. Biodynamic peppers have been experimented with and seem to have some success but rain dissipates the effect quickly.
Next: Making Good Wine: The Harvest