The final results of a groundbreaking three-year national organic grapegrowing trial are in – and the organic vines have come out shining.
In the Organic Focus Vineyard Project, three vineyard teams transitioned half of their grapevines to organic production, while a team of scientists monitored the results and their wine industry peers looked on. For comparison, half of each focus vineyard site was managed under standard wine industry agrichemical practices.
The three-year trial was initiated by grower group Organic Winegrowers New Zealand, and funded by the Ministry of Primary Industries’ Sustainable Farming Fund, in response to a recent surge of new organic conversions in the wine industry.
“Organic winegrowing has been expanding fantastically in recent years, but most of the information-sharing for new entrants has been anecdotal,” said project manager Rebecca Reider. “We wanted to blaze a clear path for new organic growers to follow, and to give all wineries a more objective view of the potential costs and benefits involved in becoming organic.”
Participating wineries were chosen to represent a cross-section of vineyard scenarios across New Zealand, in Hawkes Bay, Marlborough and Central Otago.
Throughout the trial, local winegrowers in each region attended field days to witness and discuss the progress of the organic vineyards. A website shared organic practices and outcomes in real time.
The final report from the project has just been released. Despite a few challenges along the way, the organic vineyards posted strong numbers across the board, from pest and disease levels through to wine quality. Participating vineyard managers and winemakers were enthusiastic about the results. Once the trial was over, all of the involved wineries chose to maintain or expand their organic growing areas.
“The monitoring results showed that excellent disease control was possible with organic management,” said Jonathan Hamlet, chair of Organic Winegrowers New Zealand. “A number of the blocks showed it was possible, once organic management was established, to have equivalent production costs. The feedback from the winemakers involved in the project was very positive about the quality of the organic wines.”
Mission Estate had the most straightforward organic transition. Vineyard managers there discovered that they could grow organic grapes for less than it cost them to grow conventional grapes – with hardly any loss in yields, and no pest and disease problems.
Some vines at the other focus vineyards needed more nutritional support through the organic transition, particularly to help soils rebound from years of compaction and dependence on conventional agrichemicals. By the end of the three years, all vines were responding well to organic management.
The final report from the project has just been released. A summary of results, and a downloadable PDF of the full report, are posted at http://www.organicfocusvineyard.com/2015/06/22/final-results/
The results will be presented at New Zealand’s first national Organic and Biodynamic Winegrowing Conference, to be held in Blenheim next week.
For more information:
Rebecca Reider, project manager
+64 27 359 4522