Getting life into the soil

By Ben Burridge
Viticultural Technician, Wither Hills

Jacqueline Maclaurin, who managed the Organic Focus Vineyard for the last two years at Wither Hills, has moved on to manage Wither Hills’ Rarangi Vineyard. Thanks to Jacqueline for all her hard work, and welcome to Ben, who will be steering the vineyard through the final season of this project.

Although winter is seen as a dormant period for grapevines, the Organic Focus Vineyards at Wither Hills have been a hive of activity. A significant amount of work has been conducted in preparation for the final season of the OFV project, with the ultimate goal of producing the best possible wines for analysis in 2014!

Buds on their way, organic Pinot

Buds on their way, organic Pinot

The focus for the upcoming season is to grow healthy vines through effective soil management and well-timed undervine cultivation. The warmer than average winter has thus far encouraged this, with the cover crop reaching significant heights. These crops will soon be mulched and disked into the soil to provide plenty of nutrition for spring growth whilst reducing our early season frost risk. Furthermore the application of compost after harvest has helped to replenish soil microbiology.

All blocks have received a light dusting of dolomite and reactive phosphate rock, whilst blood and bone will be band spread in the organic Pinot Noir to increase nitrogen availability. Furthermore a permanent sward of drought tolerant species will be planted in the organic Sauvignon Blanc as well as a crop of buckwheat and Phacelia for natural pest and disease management.

Last season in the organic Pinot Noir we attempted to rip the mid row wheel tracks to reduce compaction and allow the vine roots to expand. However the compaction of the soil prevented this from occurring and the rip line had to be reduced to the vine mid row where it was less compacted. In the coming weeks we plan to rip the wheel tracks which should be possible due to last season’s efforts.

The conventional vineyards have had their first undervine herbicide of the season whilst the organic vineyards were undervine mounded. Pinot Noir buds are starting to creep out of their winter dormancy a bit earlier this year and the first spray round of season is likely to occur within the next couple of weeks.

Overall we have a very busy season ahead of us; however the hard work will be rewarded at the conclusion of the project with a glass of wine from the various Organic Focus Vineyards.

Soils in the conventional Pinot Noir: compacted and herbicided, not exactly full of life. Starting from this baseline may have made it harder for the organic vines to transition to undervine cultivation

Above: Soils in the conventional Pinot Noir: compacted and herbicided for early season frost protection. Did starting from this baseline make it harder for the organic vines to transition to undervine cultivation?

The ground floor in the organic Pinot Noir, taken at the same time: winter cover crop of lupin and oats has done well. Will this and other soil practices help the vines?

Above: The ground floor in the organic Pinot Noir, taken at the same time: winter cover crop of lupin and oats has done well. Will this and other soil practices help the vines?

Conventional and organic Sauvignon Blanc side by side

Conventional and organic Sauvignon Blanc side by side