Out in the Margaret River vineyards Summer 2010

Warm weather and some rainfall have been beneficial for vine growth throughout the Margaret River wine region and flowering continues through this period in near perfect conditions. From what I can see, the potential for fruitfulness and yield at this early stage of fruit development looks to be very promising. I know that there is talk of oversupply and poor sales of fruit but we need to consider that there is still demand for high quality fruit and wine sales are still being made (its just that there is a lot more wine to sell!). For this reason it is so important that viticulturists use whatever means possible to increase the quality of fruit and this can include growing more crop to induce mild stress on vines and then removing some crop to strategically balance up ripeness and improve overall quality attributes. How does this happen?

Carrying a large crop of fruit is somewhat an advantage for quality fruit production in the first instance, as the crop size will influence the end use of energy (carbohydrate and starches produced by the plant through the process of photosynthesis). Simply, this just means that the energy produced by the plant can be used in either developing a large crop of fruit or producing more vegetation. The vine responds to demand for carbohydrate and distribution through complex chemical/hormonal signals produced in roots and leaves and as a result of stress (technical stuff that’s better explained in books). We know that less vegetative growth after fruit set results in less green fruit characters in fruit, higher colour saturation in red varieties and intense flavour and aroma. Evolution has dictated that vines under mild stress respond by setting a crop of fruit that is attractive (it tastes and smells good and has an attractive colour) to animals for seed distribution. We simply take advantage of this to produce wines that have soft tannin structure, high colour concentration (reds) and fantastic flavour and aroma. The best timing in red varieties to induce mild stress onto the plant to improve fruit quality is just prior to veraison (colour change in red grapes). Having a large crop of fruit, reducing water and fertiliser availability helps this process. 

We know that large crops on small vines can be difficult to ripen (sugar ripeness – Baume) but that true ripeness (skins, seeds and pulp ripeness) can occur at low Baume. It is the relationship between the winemaker, viticulturist and the grower that decides on the management of crop yield and ripening performance. There is a desired sugar level to produce the alcohol required by the winemaker and there is a desire to have fruit that is free from green fruit character, has colour, flavour and aroma. Somewhere in this matrix is the desired balance and when this is achieved, great wines are produced.

In my time as a viticulturist and grower I have heard and read much information on how to achieve high quality fruit and make the best possible wine. It goes without saying (but I will anyway) that some of the best fruit quality I’ve seen has come from the least technical vineyards! Simply, these vineyards are managed to allow the soils and vines to express themselves to the natural environment and the resulting wines just happen to be very good. While the technology used in these vineyards may be deemed low tech, the management is considerate of the basics of viticulture and ensure that the vines are tended to prevent pests and disease and to remain healthy and well catered for. It also goes without saying that the personalized care that is applied to these vines also has a bearing on fruit quality. The low-tech vineyards that I have working relationship with have managers that are in-touch with their vines. I guess another description could be empathy or “plugged in”. These guys and girls are in close contact with the winemaker, out in the vineyard every day looking at vine performance, monitoring for pests and disease and when necessary shoot thinning, removing leaf, strategically bunch thinning and tending the vines to create the perfect environment to allow the very best in wine quality.  I think that it is important that the local wine industry recognizes the contribution of viticultural excellence by individuals. Keith and Sally Scott from St Margarets Estate vineyard are worthy recipients of the 2009 Margaret River Wine Industry Associations “Viticultural Excellence Award” and have shown by example the dedication to producing quality fruit. Congratulations Keith and Sally.
Contributed by Bruce Pearce


Vasse Felix vines planted in 1967

About Margaret River Discovery Tours
Sean Blocksidge is the owner operator of the Margaret River Discovery Company, an avid photographer, blogger and South West WA ambassador. In 2010 he won Western Australian Guide of the Year and his tours have been rated the #1 thing to do in Australia on the Tripadvisor website for the past two years.