Out in the vineyard at 7am in the morning with a crew of happy workers ready to start the day’s work tying down the canes on the remaining few rows of Cabernet in preparation for bud break. Unusually cold this morning and can see the pink cheeks and runny noses on a couple of backpackers….. “Don’t worry girls, it will warm up soon! Cold mornings will bring fine and warm afternoons!!” (We hope!).
Spring is with us, the daylight hours are getting longer, the temperature is warming and now the vines are starting to swell the buds in preparation for bursting out the new seasons shoots. Chardonnay has been bursting for some time now and we see many vines with shoots that are well advanced (some shoots are greater than 300mm long). A few vineyard teams are starting the process of manipulating the vine canopy on these Chardonnay vines to achieve the desired shoot density and location on the trellis. Many viticulturists will establish the desired shoot number and therefore density per lineal meter by removing unwanted or poorly positioned shoots. This is done with a keen eye and most of the work is done by hand. It is repetitious work that requires concentration and dedication to achieve the desired result. Many of the team that undertake this work are the same people that pruned the vines and as a result a benefit is gained in the next years pruning with potentially better placed shoots and less cuts resulting in quicker pruning.
Most of the established vineyard teams will have some understanding of the pests and diseases that can be found in our vines and these people add greatly to the “hands on” monitoring that is done every day, reporting the most minor findings which help with early intervention of the pest and ultimately protection of the crop.
As the vine shoots extend in length (sometimes up to many metres long) the canopy structure is trained into the most desirable position. For many years the aim of canopy management was to allow sunlight directly onto the fruit to enable evenness of ripening. The shoots were trained generally in a vertical and/or downward direction, as this would leave the fruit exposed directly to the sunlight. The canopy would be trimmed to provide adequate sunlight for photosynthesis, to help feed the vine. These practices led to many innovative trellis and canopy types and of course some clever names to describe them. Scott Henry, Geneva Double Curtain, Vertical Shoot Position (VSP), Te Kauwhata Two Tier (TK2T) and Lyre are but a few. Some of these practices required incredibly high labour input and technical application to get the desired result and some could only be hand harvested.
A recent change in canopy management theory and practice has developed from a better understanding of fruit quality attributes and how this is influenced by many factors that occur within the vineyard environment. Climate change is but one influencing factor and none the less has created a shift in thinking of the understanding of what it takes to present attractive fruit for winemaking. Unfortunately, with direct sunlight exposure onto fruit comes the added risk of sunburn damage and there is increasing concern that this has on reducing winemaking quality of the grapes. Many progressive viticulturists are now reinventing practices that our forefathers used (occasionally, some actually believe that they have invented a new practice….). A change is being seen in canopy management back to how we managed canopies 30 years ago (in fact some growers never changed). We now know the system as “Ausie Sprawl”, an innovative way of describing a practice that allows the canopy to grow out naturally. There is still a trellis, but with fixed horizontal wires to which some of the shoots naturally attach and the rest of the shoots grow out in a radiating canopy. It is important to maintain vine health without creating excessive vigour to meet the canopy performance. Importantly, nutrient inputs and water management needs to be done wisely, a factor with all high quality fruit production. When working well, “Ausie Sprawl” gives inter canopy airflow for enhanced natural disease management, dappled sunlight onto fruit to promote evenness of ripening (with reduced risk from sunburn), increased solar surface area of the canopy for photosynthesis and economies for canopy management and harvesting.
Without doubt, wine quality starts in the vineyard. Out in the Margaret River vineyards we are continually looking at methods and management to make the best possible wine. The challenge is to capture the finest of what the Margaret River wine region offers, including the soils and weather and then convey through the grapevine and into the bottle. It’s a mission that we truly take pleasure in and we trust you are enjoying our Margaret River wines!
Contributed by Bruce Pearce, Viticulturist
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.