Undervine & cover crop experiments, early spring

By Max Marriott
Assistant Vineyard Manager, Vinewise Viticulture

The quiet ebb of winter has allowed the project team at School House vineyard some time to reflect on the last two seasons of conversion and plan towards the forthcoming one. We’ve decided to implement a more intensive management strategy, both in terms of the timing of canopy management and the more holistic management of the organic blocks. In addition to our own experiences with this vineyard, and others, it’s also been invaluable to talk with fellow focus vineyard managers, particularly the healthy and thought-provoking discussions during the annual meetings in Marlborough back in August.

In addition to pruning (which was quite aggressive in places), there was significant activity on the vineyard in September. The organic blocks had every fifth row cultivated, in preparation for a staggered spring sowing of a buckwheat/phacelia/alyssum flowering mix. Every tenth row will be sown in the next fortnight, followed by a second sowing of every alternate tenth row a month later: to mitigate any potential frost risk and also increase the span of the flowering period. Every second row of the 777 block (13 rows) has also been cultivated. Firstly to break up some compaction and stimulate N mineralisation, but also in readiness for a green crop of oats and lupins to boost organic matter. These seeds have just been sown, with good soil moisture, and were inoculated with a VAM product to increase fungal biomass. It will be interesting to see whether the introduction of this cereal/legume mix helps to decrease the lucerne populations.

After significant June rain (wettest on record) and then an unseasonably warm and dry July/August, the undervine was mounded so that a blade pass could occur shortly after budburst, to more effectively reduce early season weed competition. That pass is scheduled for the next fortnight also. During the August/September mounding, six rows of the 777 block had an organic dried blood product applied as part of a trial, to garner any prospective response, particularly vigour. Whilst the mounding of the organic blocks was occurring, the tractor was fitted with a small spray unit on the front that was applying an organic humate/fish mixture. This application was the first of three, the second scheduled for the next blading pass sometime in the next fortnight. Again, this product has been used to bolster organic matter and biomass.

Budburst was about a week early at the School House vineyard, and prior to weed spraying the conventional blocks (a job I had to do personally this time, and detest handling the chemical), I took a quick photo of the upper half of the vineyard. The contrast between the two regimes is already very apparent. Spot the difference – one half is green, one half is not. We will shortly begin shoot thinning the organic blocks (earlier than usual) and leave the conventional blocks for a week or two later. So far, no flight time for the choppers, but we have had a helicopter at the vineyard. Fingers crossed the frosts stay away.

School House Vineyard, Spring 2013

School House Vineyard, Spring 2013