Midsummer in Central Otago

By Max Marriott

Assistant Vineyard Manager

Luckily, following the unusual frost event in the first week of November, there have been no more nasty surprises at the School House vineyard. There was an isolated rainfall in mid-late November of 20mm, but aside from this, conditions have been warm, hot and dry with a spectacular week of consecutive 30+ degree days over the Christmas break. Growth has been strong and relatively consistent across the vineyard, aside from the hollows and gullies that were tickled by the frost. Despite this – and the annoyance of laterals pushing – there has only been minimal damage to inflorescences.

The organic blocks were under-vine weeded for the second time in the first week of December, just as the weeds were gaining a foothold and while there was still moisture in the ground. A lot of rocks were kicked out during this pass, requiring a tractor and trailer to follow through a few days later to collect all the large rocks (a full day job).

A successful Phacelia strike

Flowering began in the second week of December and fruit had set by the time we had our field day on the 20th of December. The field day had a theme of irrigation and fertigation, however it was also an opportunity for vineyard manager Grant Rolston to discuss the progress in the vineyard. He touched on the effect of erosion from undervine weeding (and the “sloping” effect, necessitating cultivation on just one side of some rows ). It’s too early to say yet for this vineyard, but when rows are on a slight sideways slope, erosion is a possibility. When this happens, or ideally before it happens, only one side of the row is cultivated, to encourage regrowth, stability and structure on the erosion-susceptible side.

Grant also discussed the successful Phacelia strike and its suitability to the region (performs well in semi-arid environments), as well as the amount of life in these sown rows with the cover crops.

Fertigation was also applied to both blocks just prior to flowering; Wuxal amino to the organic blocks and calcium nitrate to the conventional blocks. The vineyard will have another round of both supplements in the second week of January. The irrigation had been steadily increased throughout the growing season, corresponding to the demand from growth. There is already a contrast between the cultivated and conventional rows, the latter showing considerably more runoff than the mounded organic rows.

Other than that, it’s been business as usual. A regular 10-day spray program of sulphur and seaweed on both the conventional and organic blocks has been kept up to date, and given the fruit from the vineyard is destined for premium pinot noir, all the blocks have been clipped (to assist shoot positioning) and laterals taken off in various places as well. We will now perform the final wire lift, fruit thin, apply the bird nets and then we’ll be harvesting.

Staff tuck, clip and straighten in the organic Pinot Noir block