Nutrition through the season; more conversion plans

By Max Marriott
Assistant Vineyard Manager, Vinewise Viticulture

The latest field day at the School House vineyard saw a good, albeit lower-than-usual turnout of 30 people. Perhaps a sign of the season as much as anything (with everyone preoccupied in their vineyards) – the vines seem to be growing before our very eyes after a spell of calm, hot weather in November following the typical equinox winds. Many are saying it’s the earliest flowering they’ve seen, so we could be in for another early season. Fortunately frost pressure was minimal, with only a couple of events that required considerable fighting. The chopper was in the air at the School House vineyard for a total of about 20 minutes (shared with a neighbouring vineyard). After a wet and warm winter, crops of oats/lupins and phacelia/buckwheat were sown in mid October, however the strike to date has been poor (almost non-existent) due to a bone dry six weeks from mid October until the end of November.

Organic Pinot Noir

Organic Pinot Noir

Andrew Naylor spoke about foliar nutrition at the field day and drew on his considerable experience and more recent background in organic viticulture with a corporate hat on. The take home message, for me, was key timing, vine health and vineyard history. Key timing refers to the application of foliar nutrition at the right physiological time. Depending on the product used, one can take into consideration the spring and autumn root flushes, the post-reserve push in mid-late spring, pre- and post-flowering, and so forth. Vine health relates straight back to soil health, and to that end we’ve been making regular applications at the School House vineyard on our organic blocks. Dried blood, compost tea, fish, seaweed, humates and wuxal amino at different stages. We’ve taken the approach of small amounts, often, to maintain a strong biological population. With respect to vineyard history, that’s a relatively short timeline for us, but annual petiole and soil tests will indicate over time any deficiencies and elements we need to target.

Looking forward, there are just six months left now until the effective end of the Organic Focus Vineyard project. The outlook for the School House vineyard, once the focus vineyard project is done, will be a full conversion of the remaining conventional areas to organic production. This will be interesting, because it will present its own set of challenges, with respect to the issues or hiccups that can present a block when first converted, as we’ve already experienced. Root pruning and the vine-shock attributed to a change of diet – from junk food to healthy eating cold turkey – will mean that we still have to essentially treat the vineyard in two halves, at least until the freshly converted blocks come out of their transition phase (which, by all accounts, is a three-year process). However, there will be lessons learned from the journey already undertaken, so as to soften the sudden shift in regime. We will provide a rundown of these, and more, in the next blog post.

Above: Organic Pinot Gris, Nov 2013

Organic Pinot Gris, Nov 2013

Conventional Pinot Gris, Nov 2013. The vineyard managers are now planning to make these vines organic as well at the end of the project, indicating their happiness with the organic regime so far...

Conventional Pinot Gris, Nov 2013. The vineyard managers are now planning to make these vines organic at the end of the project, indicating their happiness with the organic regime so far…