Pruning is all about balance, the delicate balance between fruit load and shoot growth.
In basic terms, we’re training and directing the growth of the vine for the coming season. Pruning allows us to manipulate the potential quantity, and quality of fruit produced. Following a season like the one we’ve just had, this is all the more important.
2018 was quite a year for UK vineyards, often touted as the ‘biggest and best’ yet. In France, they’d call it a Millésime, a proper ‘Vintage’. This is great but the ongoing effects of a season like we’ve just had can have far-reaching consequences.
Sometimes a year will come along that is quite unlike any other. 2018 is one of those years.
Following last year’s fine weather at flowering the potential crop this year was always going to be good in terms of yield, little did we know we would have one of the warmest summers on record. What this meant for us, and the UK wine industry in general, is that we had a large crop that was able to ripen to ideal levels for our Sussex Sparkling wines. When I say a large crop this is relative, the UK has consistently low yields compared to other grape growing regions, which is due to weather events; late spring frost, poor flowering weather, and (generally) cool summers.
This season has got off to a flying start!
The vineyard growth is at least a couple of weeks ahead of what would be considered normal, thanks mainly to well above average temperatures in Spring and in particular May.
Average temperatures for May, as well as April, were well above mean long-term average temperatures for most of the country, even Scotland! This is starting to become a bit of a trend in recent years (long may it continue) and is only positive for grape growing. Also with good rainfall in late winter/early spring the moisture content of the soil has been ideal to get things off to a good start.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock recently you’ll be aware that we’ve finally launched our Sparkling wines last week. I won’t dwell on this but so far both the trade and media have received them very well.
Now that that necessary distraction is out of the way we can get back to the business of wine-growing. Last Friday we started planting more vineyard, another 13ha.
I risk repeating myself every season when I’m asked to blog about pruning.
Yes, it’s cold. No, we don’t prune in the rain (Yes, it is possible in England to not prune in the rain). Yes, we are using local labour (Yes, they do want to work).
What with spraying, trimming, spraying, nets to go on, spraying, oh and some more spraying.
It’s been a busy few weeks on the vineyard, and with a man down having a back operation (Ian- get well soon) it’s been all hands to the pump.
Well, the past week really has been something.
I arrived back from a week of Nuffield studies in Canada on Sunday to discover, not only the Vineyard bathed in heat and sunshine but, the first flowers starting to appear. What better time for a heat wave to hit the UK than right at the start of flowering. Normally flowering will drag out over at least a couple of weeks but hopefully not this year.
This week has been quite a week for the vineyard. The weather has been a bit of everything; we’ve had sun (always welcome in Spring) rain (which we needed after such a dry month) hail (which we can do without thanks) snow (not now thanks) and the worst of all frost (never welcome)
We’re just about half-way through pruning, which is pretty good going considering we’re just at the end of January.
We’ve been lucky and have had a marvellous run with the weather during this month; lots of cold frosty days that make for perfect pruning weather.
Instead of the usual musings on the weather, and what is going on in the vineyard it was suggested that I write about my Nuffield Farming Scholarship.
So what’s it all about?
The Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust award approximately 20 individuals each year with the opportunity to research topics of interest in either farming, food, horticulture and rural industries, or to certain individuals who are in a position to influence these rural industries.
I often write about the weather, and it’s hard not to be obsessed by the weather when it controls everything we do in the vineyard.
Although June was fairly ordinary this year, at least we’ve had a summer and it looks like it may continue for a while yet.
It’s not just us though; global temperatures for the first seven months of 2016 have smashed yet more records, suggesting we are on track for the world’s hottest year on record
Flowering in the vineyard is such a wonderful time, it can bring a lot of stress and worry, with one eye constantly on the weather but once it is complete we can finally see just how much fruit we will have this year.
Sure we can do bud counts at pruning, shoot counts early in the season, and inflorescence counts once the flowers are visible but it’s not until the vine has actually set its fruit for the year that we can get a true idea of that years crop.
The weather at flowering is critical to production in vineyards, and luckily this year it’s been pretty good. June, although warm was fairly ordinary with rain regularly throughout the month, in fact we had 18 days of rain. By chance the rain stopped just in time for the beginning of flowering. So far most varieties and blocks are well into flowering with some near completion.
So what does flowering in a vineyard look like?
With the 9th International Cool Climate Wine Symposium less than a week away, preparations are coming to an end, and the final touches are being added.
This time around England is hosting the Symposium in Brighton, bringing together the great and the good of wine, viticulture, and wine business to share ideas and meet with others in the wine industry.
Each year the Oregon Winegrowers hold their annual symposium in Portland. The symposium is comprised of two full days of panel discussions and presentations covering the most relevant topics in viticulture, oenology and wine business. In addition to this it also hosts the Northwest’s largest wine industry trade show.
This year I was lucky enough to attend the symposium as well as spend a day visiting vineyards in the Willamette Valley. For those of you who aren’t up to speed with Oregon wine this is prime Pinot Noir country.