Many aspects of our daily lives are focused on achieving some sort of balance. Balancing obligations at work and home, our diets, our accounts or if you’re anything like me – balancing the washing up next to the kitchen sink like the leaning tower of Pisa. In the vineyard, when we talk about ‘vine balance’ we’re focused on the relationship between the leaves, shoots, roots and fruit on the vines. However, what determines ‘balance’ can differ depending on the climate, variety and even wine style which means it can be hard to define – that’s why we’ve been recording pruning weights this year.
Grapevines are natural climbers and if left to their own devices they can produce lots of foliage, so viticulturists often find themselves in a push and pull situation. We want to ensure there is enough effective canopy to ripen the grapes but not so much that it is detrimental to the potential quantity or quality of the fruit. This was controlled initially through the selection of our site, varieties, clones, rootstocks, training methods and planting density; then adjusted throughout the year starting at pruning followed by trimming, defoliating or removing fruit.
The often-wet English summers mean we have to guide our vines away from vegetative growth and push them to give us grapes to produce our wine. This is something we have to be especially diligent about on the estate – not only because our vines are young but because the climate here in the U.K is particularly challenging and notoriously unpredictable. Because grapevines are perennial plants, the weather conditions and the management practices we employ can have lasting effects.
One way to determine if our vines are balanced involves weighing the wood we remove at pruning. This measurement used together with last year’s vine yield gives us an indication of the health and potential productivity of our vineyard. In practice it is a simple task, but knowing what to do with the information is a completely different ball game. Ultimately, we are looking for uniformity but as our site is so varied, attaining a sense of equilibrium all depends on what we determine as normal or attainable in a particular area. Thinking on your feet becomes easier the more knowledge you have about your site and although there are guidelines that we can follow, the goal is to understand our vineyard piece by piece and year by year so we can effectively manage it to get the best possible fruit for our Sussex Sparkling.