As a team of advisors and contract vineyard managers at Vinescapes, we are grateful to have a unique birds-eye-view of the UK vineyard sector and we’re certainly noticing some trends, myths and interesting observations.
One such observation was the positive impact that a healthy soil (and I mean truly healthy, not just chemically balanced and well drained) can have on the vines, especially with regards to their health, yields, required inputs and resilience.
To highlight an example, we have two sites with similar terroir, that have historically been managed in very different ways, partly due to their setup and partly just management preferences. Both sites are South facing, well drained on medium textured sandy clay loam soils with good shelter from prevailing winds, sufficient air flow and very little shading.
Site A was established many years ago on Geneva Double Curtain (GDC) trellising, which was popular at the time, while site B is Guyot pruned on VSP (Vine Trellis System). This is where the management differences (all human intervention rather than natural) start.
The ‘T’ shaped trellising of GDC in site A has guaranteed no tractor traffic on the vines’ rootzone for many years, and it has suffered no compaction at all. Therefore, no subsoiling or inter-row cultivation was needed. No cover crops were planted but the naturally diverse flora population has been left to seed regularly over the years. During early season, the naturally taller vines don’t suffer from lack of airflow, despite a taller ground cover. Very few herbicides were used in site A; it was felt that the more vigorous GDC vines could handle some competition, and the taller trunks made it easier to strim or mow under-vine. I’m told spraying was limited to ‘essential only’, where the owners monitored the weather closely and only sprayed when disease was highly likely to appear or already present.
By contrast, site B has been kept incredibly tidy and immaculate since planting. For the first two years, all competition was cultivated away so nothing could compete with the vines. Vine establishment was quick and strong and root penetration went deep. By year 3, a beautiful ‘golf course’ grass was managed between the rows with a very straight weed-free strip under-vine using a combination of herbicides and mechanical control. The spray program here has always been the prudent option of belt and braces with a minimum of 12 fungicide and nutrition sprays per season.