Another busy month out in the vineyards around Margaret River and some unusual tasks occurring that will change viticulture for our region into the future.
This month has been spent checking cover crops for pest and disease and also checking vines to assess the level of pruning required. The appraisal of vines takes into account the amount of wood material that was produced by the vine in the previous growing period and also the amount of fruit that was produced in ratio to the weight of the wood. The assessment also takes into account the number of shoots that occurred from buds retained and generally the size and apparent length that those shoots. I say apparent length, as many vines will be trimmed to meet canopy size and volume requirements during the growing season and this can give a false impression that the vines are looking smaller than what could have been. Many viticulturists will prune a few vines and weigh the material that is taken off and then apply calculations to determine the number of buds to retain at pruning. The art of pruning is to match the number of buds retained that may provide the basis for setting a crop that is appropriate to the size and health of the vine. The buds to be retained can be sampled and analysed using a microscope and dissection to determine the potential for bunch number, this further gives confidence to the potential for a crop. Many experienced pruners will visually assess each vine as they are pruning and then adjust the bud numbers accordingly… of course some lesser pruners may just hack away at the vines and what will be will be! The assessment of vines when pruning happens very quickly and some “gun” pruners can assess and prune more than 500 vines per day, which is a fantastic effort repeated day after day (a pruning rate of better than one vine per minute, over an eight hour day).
My time this month has been spent supervising the removal of grapevines and the preparation of grapevines for grafting to more appropriate varieties. This is not usually a common practice this time of year and generally we would be flat out pruning. The oversupply of some varieties and the poor suitability of some clones/varieties in relation to soil type and other environmental conditions have made the decision much more easy to remove vines and to create some change in our vineyards to better meet the market and our winemaking requirements. Of course, some vineyards are removing vines simply because there is no demand for that fruit into the foreseeable future and it is the most responsible decision to be made. In our vineyards we are removing some Shiraz that was much too vigorous and not producing the quality of fruit that was desired and this will be planted to four different clones of Chardonnay, all of which will be much better suited to the site. We are also converting some vigorous Cabernet Sauvignon to its close relation, Sauvignon Blanc. The Cabernet to Sauvignon Blanc will be achieved by grafting and to date our success rate in changing over has been amazingly good, all thanks to a local grafting team that have the knack.
Removal of vines would appear to be an easy task (it goes without saying; it would be easy enough to get a big bulldozer and push the lot into a pile then have a big fire and get rid of them”). Life’s not always as simple; to be responsible and to forward plan we need to consider the regrowth of vine parts remaining in the ground, as these will start to grow in spring and then we would own a larger dilemma. We need to consider the pine posts and wire that is removed, as these need to be disposed of in a sensible manner, not just burnt or buried. We are seeing recycling of these products as a sensible alternative and many local farmers are taking advantage of the abundance of posts and wire that are on offer.
This month, I have been removing vines and trying to retain the trellis and irrigation in situ so that this can be used for the next planting. This has required some thought and specialized equipment to enable a good result that will allow replanting and the preservation of the existing infrastructure. There are now contractors that specialize in the removal of grapevines and the equipment used is high tech and the contractors secretive about the equipment and methods used. Unfortunately all I can tell you is that “Spider” drives a smallish excavator fitted with a special vine removing gadget and does a fantastic job pulling the vines and getting all the roots out of the ground, he shakes each vine to release the dirt from the roots before placing the vines in the mid-row for removal. “Mick” then drives another machine to rake up all the trunks and roots; he then carries these with the same machine from the vineyard and piles them high so that these can be burnt next autumn. All this is completed seamlessly and without damage to trellis or irrigation. A job well done and the ground now ready to take the new plantings in August.
Contributed by Bruce Pearce
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.