Thursday, 22 September 2011

Never Mind the Weather!

I now feel like a proper farmer as I'm always complaining about the weather!

This year it has been pretty awful for growing grapes. The wind and rain at the end of June/early July resulted in poor fruit set, and we have had little sun since then to ripen the grapes. In July we had 12% less sunshine compared to the average of 1971-2000 and in August 20% less. Temperatures were also much lower and the average rainfall from June to the end of August has been more than 10% higher.

Comparison with 1971-2000 (Av)              June              July           August
Sunshine 11% -12% -20%
Temperature (C)   0.2 -1 -0.5
Rainfall 119% 106% 107%

Hopefully we will get some sun to ripen the grapes during the few weeks before we have to harvest. We monitor the grapes daily for disease, the main potential problems being powdery mildew and botrytis. Whilst some botrytis can be tolerated for still wine it is a big problem for bubbly.

If we can't get the pinot ripe enough it will be difficult to make a good still rose. This would set our marketing activities back a year as I'm adamant that the first wine we release will be something we are proud of. C'est la vie!

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Canopy Management

Richard Smart at Denbies

Dr Richard Smart is an Australian viticulturist and a leading expert in canopy management. He is often referred to as "the flying vine doctor". See

Recently Richard visited our vineyard and also gave a Masterclass seminar at Denbies Wine Estate in Dorking. The subject of his talk was "Practical Applications of Canopy Management" and covered optimum vigor, vine balance, summer pruning, shoot positioning, shoot and cluster thinning, leaf removal and vine training.

The produce the best fruit the ideal canopy should have the following characteristics:

  • Balanced growth
  • Intercepts as much sunlight as possible
  • Shoots that are spaced about 2.5 inches apart and 15 nodes long
  • 40% canopy gaps and 60% fruit exposure
To achieve this involves a lot of work during the growing season, much of which has to be done manually!

Powdery Mildew Lifecycle

Powdery Mildew on Pinot Noir

Unfortunately we now have Powdery Mildew on the some of the Pinot Noir and a few of the Chardonnay grapes. It's quite isolated at the moment and interestingly is mainly in the rows where the FrostGuard machine was sited which prevented proper spraying earlier in the year.

Powdery Mildew is caused by the fungus Erisiphe necator. It only infects green parts of the vine and the grapes but survives over the winter in dormant buds and in the bark crevices or leaf debris on the ground.

Powdery Mildew Lifecycle

Alex is spraying the whole of Block A this morning with sulphur and potassium bicarbonate which is the standard organic treatment. It is not curative but will hopefully prevent it from spreading.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Bunch Thinning

The 3rd bunch gets the chop!

Vines will often produce more fruit than the trunk and root system can support, which can stress the vine and also result in the bunches not ripening properly. This isn't a big problem for us this year, as many of the berries didn't pollinate properly which has resulted in small and incomplete bunches (see earlier post - Coulour and Millerandage).

Non the less Alex has convinced me that we should cut off any 3rd and 4th bunches on any one cane, so that the grapes have the best possible chance of ripening in this dreadful weather. Whilst good quality sparkling wine can be made from fairly acidic grapes, we need fruit with a reasonably high sugar content to make a good quality still rosé.

All in all it's been a pretty dreadful year so far weather wise. We are still hopeful of releasing our first rosé wine next year but will only do so if the quality is good enough. Hopefully an Indian summer!