When we think of sustainability, it can mean many different things to different people. Environmental, socio-economic, financial. They all have their place but what is really important to a vineyard is the sustainability of the vines and their long-term future.
Pruning can make a huge difference to the longevity of a vine’s life and its architecture: its structure, branching and canopy. A few wrong cuts over time and the vine won’t be in a good way, the reason is that every cut will cause dieback, where the vine heals itself. Learning to prune is not a simple process, and even though most people will pick up the basics in a few hours it takes a lifetime to master.
2019 has been one of those years where it all looked like everything was going to be great and easy and then the weather had other ideas right at the last minute.
The season was generally ok, nothing like 2018 but a fairly good one for the UK with above average temperatures for most of the year. Then it all suddenly turned in September, bringing us the first wet and at times challenging harvest in the history of Rathfinny.
We often talk about sustainability here at Rathfinny, and that takes many forms from repurposing our menu’s in the restaurant for scrap paper to the introduction of paper rather than plastic spray guards around the young vines. One thing we haven’t really touched on is bird control.
It’s my usual springtime blog post. Complaining about the weather and musing about planting.
To be fair we’ve had quite a good run weather wise. Mid-20’s Celcius at the end of April is fine by me, it’d just be nice if it stayed for longer than a couple of days. It’s just the wind this past weekend, can we please have less of that? The planting team looked like they’d been sandblasted!
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.