A rude awakening

We got off to a busy start in the vineyard, admittedly caught with our trousers around our ankles, but we soon stumbled on pulling our trousers back up with a very certain and determined final zip and buckle fastening. The weather was mild throughout winter, but cold enough to give our vines a nice period of dormancy, allowing this year fruiting canes to “ripen” well for this coming vintage.

Pruning is done over a long couple of months as our vineyard team still only consists of myself and my brother, Toby. However, our Dad, Jeremy, comes up when he can in between his very busy schedule building and eating packet sushi from the nearest supermarket. It’s funny actually, he continues to get all the glory in either pruning the last vine or tying down the last vines much to mine and Toby’s frustration. Stealing the social media limelight once again! Darn him. Good job he’s a very handsome man. I digress.

We spent a long wet and sometimes very cold (at times) pruning the vines to the gentle pruning system. I did write about this in my last entry but I am unsure whether I did it much justice. I will improve given the time. We then had to pull out all of the cut wood. This was fairly satisfying as you could get quite aggressive when pulling it out venting some of that winter anger. Though every now and then you’d get a flick or ping of a whip like rogue cane in the eye, arm or back of the leg. OUCH! Especially when it was cold. Nothing worse than a slap on the leg from a vine that seemingly comes alive to avenge the pruning wounds you had previously inflicted.

Once the wood had been pulled out things start to look much neater and you start to set the vineyard for the coming season. Though there is still much to do and there’s no time to rest just yet. We are now onto tying the vines down onto the fruiting wire. Last year we used paper covered wire ties. These worked really well and did the job. Though they are surprisingly expensive and made clicking the buy now button very tricky. We’ve all been there, perhaps not with wire ties which definitely seems somewhat trivial but we have. That’s the thing with managing a vineyard, when there’s something you need, you need it and that’s that. No buts.

This year we used Max Tapener (other brands available - buy they’re probably no good ;)

So this machine uses ….plastic…tape. Ergh, I know. A huge downfall with this method. I have enquired to the manufacturer as to whether they have more natural/ biodegradable tapes that can be used. But for now, they don’t. So the tape wraps around the fruiting wire and the fruiting cane and you staple the tape together thus holding the cane to the wire. Genius! And hugely time saving. At one point we only had one Max Tapener machine and I was using the wire ties and Toby was lapping me, which is crazy. So we bought another and had the tying down done in no time at all.

With the mild January and February, combined with the miniature heatwave we had mid to end February we started to see sap flow in the vines. When the soil warms and the diurnal temperatures begin to come closer together (Warmer days and relatively warmer nights) this will trigger hormone production in the vines roots, which signals for the vine to come out of dormancy and begin to grow. When this happens you will see the vines “weep”. This is where sap actually gets to pruning wounds and just comes out as a drop of liquid. So cool. This brought on early bud swell. The vines started to come to life at the beginning of March, which was about two to three weeks ahead of last years bud swell. This is a scary thing as it puts you in for a very hairy ride through Spring. You end up just stressing about frosts and that as more time passes and a frost hasn’t occurred they become more vulnerable to frost events. You guessed it, we had a hugely devastating frost that we weren’t prepared for whatsoever. Our temperature monitoring isn’t the best at the moment, even so, there were no local weather warnings or anything. It dropped to -3C and the fragile wooly buds of our Chardonnay vines were damaged. A week later, we had more frost risk, this time we knew that they could be coming but being a small producer doesn’t allow for much protection as it can be very costly trying to combat frost. Even then you can’t be 100% that the fragile buds will be protected.

We did what we could. There are protein products that can be sprayed onto the vines before a frost event that boost the plants immune system, there are physical barrier products that can be sprayed. So we did that. We also came up to light fires in an attempt to put our minds at ease that we were doing something at least to try and fight the frost and protect our little babies from harm. Unfortunately, it was all in vain and to no avail, as expected we got frosted again. At this point I had no idea how to measure frost damage on top of the previous weeks frost damage. So we will have to wait and see when shoots start to grow to assess the full extent of the damage.

You can see from a post on Facebook last week that the primary shoots look very fruitful. So we should still get an ok crop in terms of yield.

The nights lighting fires, although stressful, ended up being a nice bit of time spent with Toby and Dad. There’s something quite nice about being out early in the morning (2am-7.30am) when it’s frosty but you are near the fires. You see the sunrise, which is beautiful and you hear the morning chorus, the birds blissfully unaware of the vines shivering in their boots.

Because of the frost the vines were set back a bit going from being 2 weeks ahead to about the same as last year if not a week or so behind. This meant that things suddenly slowed down in the vineyard and gave us a bit of time to catch up on jobs. We still had to drop the canopy wires, inject the iron chelate and spread fertilisers. Luckily these are completed pretty quickly in the tractor.

Fast forward to the end of April, We’ve had another amazing spell of weather, gorgeous sun that has seen the Chardonnay and the Pinots buds burst. So we’re off! It’s a lovely time of year because the vineyard come to life. After so many month of seeing twigs and no green. It’s also a relief as you can see that everything is still alive and I can keep my job for another year.

I’m going to get back to the vineyard now. Lots to crack on with. Hopefully you’ll enjoy the next installment of what we’re up to. Thank you for reading. Let me know what you think by either commenting on the website or get in touch with me personally. I’d be very happy to hear from you either way. Please share with anyone who you may feel might enjoy this also.

I hope to see you at the vineyard soon,

Nat McConnell

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