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Case Study: learning from vineyard monitoring at Gusbourne

Case Study: learning from vineyard monitoring at Gusbourne 1630 1148 Sectormentor

Case study: vineyard monitoring at Gusbourne

Sectormentor saves time, improves accuracy & supports regenerative practice

Gusbourne is an acclaimed English wine estate, with two vineyard sites in Sussex and Kent.  Gusbourne wines won a record-breaking number of medals at this year’s WineGB awards, with six golds and six silvers. We have been following the Gusbourne team over the last four years, since they first started using Sectormentor, and in that time we have seen them experiment with more and more regenerative approaches to vineyard management. Adam, assistant vineyard manager, told us about a few key changes that are beginning to have a significant impact.

One of the central changes made at Gusbourne is reducing their mowing – they now don’t mow between the vines until July, and after then only three times per year. This simple change has multiple benefits. Firstly, it greatly reduces the number of passes they are doing in the vineyard; reducing fuel use, limiting weight on the soil and freeing up time to do other work in the vineyard. It’s also resulted in a huge increase in butterflies and birds, thriving in the longer grass, alongside a decline in pest pressure – clearly visible from their insect counts on Sectormentor.

Screenshot from Gusbourne’s biodiversity tool showing recent butterfly sightings

This highlights two aspects of the regenerative mindset – firstly reducing unnecessary work and input costs, and secondly increasing biodiversity. Improved biodiversity introduces natural predator populations, as well as encouraging plant root diversity to boost soil microbiome interactions, which further improves resilience against pests and disease as we learnt in our summary of Christine Jones’s webinar series.

Adam told us his team have been recording wildlife sightings on the Sectormentor phone app to track what’s changing: “I put a couple of team members onto Sectormentor for identification of insects and the biodiversity side of things, and that gives our full time team lots of pleasure. Being more interactive with all aspects of the vineyard, not just observing and recording the vines.”

As every site is different, the importance of observation is central to a more regenerative approach, and it’s great to see how this has started to benefit Adam and the team: “tapping into the power of observations is a key part of the app – it allows you to record observations very neatly and review them quickly, in a way that isn’t complicated. I get a lot of pleasure from using it.” 

Two images recorded on Gusbourne’s Sectormentor account at the same site exactly a year apart


Immediate Yield Prediction from the field

Another focus for the Gusbourne team has been improving their yield predictions. A more accurate prediction for each block or varietal helps to bring a certain level of efficiency to the business, streamlining production to make communication with the winery or sales team much easier. Previously, bunch and flower counts were recorded on paper at Gusbourne, and then uploaded at a later date. The team were also doing ‘random’ sampling of around 0.5% of vines, which was all that was possible in the time they had. 

Using Sectormentor has freed up some time for the Gusbourne team – they have created set sample sites marked by GPS locations, making monitoring much more efficient, and enabling the team to double the number of vines they sample up to 1% in the time they have. This greatly improves the accuracy of their yield predictions, and recording everything in Sectormentor also means their forecasts are available immediately across both sites – allowing Adam and Jon (vineyard manager at the Kent site) to stay on the same page.

“There is an obvious financial saving from mine and Jon’s time for yield estimation, because now it can be done in the field, and because the app makes finding sample bays so seamless, we have switched to using set sample bays. The time saving for data collection is astronomical, that is what hooked Jon on it – he is a Yorkshireman so he has quite a tight wallet. What got him into using it is he can go to sample bay, record that data and when he’s back at the office everything’s there, the yield forecast is already done.”

“For the yield prediction alone it has probably saved me 10-12 hours a year at the computer, that is time that I was not out in the field looking and actually managing the vines. It means I can be out in the field with the guys, I can still work with everyone and do it on the phone… I can stay with team and things are streamlined”

Adam taking a closer look at the pruning structure of a vine

The immediate conversion of raw data into graphs and visualisations is also helpful in many other ways, as it allows the Gusbourne team to come together and make informed decisions more quickly across multiple sites. Adam told us, “Sectormentor gives a quick snapshot of what’s happening in the vineyard, which is what we need in a conversation and making decisions in a hurry. It’s a really speedy and nice way to do it.”

Not only is this year’s data immediately visualised, but viewing it together with past years’ data makes analysis much more powerful, as well as keeping other members of the winemaking team in the loop even if they aren’t in the vineyard.

Jon told us: “When you see a visual representation of graphs over years, how bud burst has fluctuated and how flowering has fluctuated, it’s really valuable to see these patterns so easily.” Adam added: “Charlie, our winemaker, started to take note of it last year. The winery could just click on the phenology report and think ‘this year looks similar to 2017’ so we can start to get an idea of what to expect.”

Recent photos from Adam of Gusbourne’s cover crop in flower


Learning about physical soil structure – ‘really looking and observing’

Adam began digging holes and looking at the soil structure inspired by soil tests on Sectormentor a few years ago. He had some pretty big realisations about the soil, particularly compaction issues, which are detailed in an earlier case study we did on Gusbourne. These early Sectormentor soil tests have been recently clarified into the 10 ‘Regen Indicators’, which support the learning of a diversity of insights about your soil.

Adam told us about the emerging benefits in his latest experiments to work through the compaction with cover cropping and ripping: “We’re really noticing benefits with some of our operations. We have gone through the first pan this time, reseeded with another 30-40 species, trying to find our own mixes that work for us, as there aren’t many pre-mixed seeds for vineyards. The main cover mix recommended for vineyards is phacelia, black oats and vetch. So I have been trying lots of other mixes.”

Soil with mulch under-vine showing an improved, aggregated soil structure

Sectormentor also allows Adam to use the regenerative learning loop and has prompted him to look at and investigate soils in ways he wouldn’t have previously:  “It’s definitely aiding in the regenerative transition. Things that I wouldn’t think of have popped up on the app in the last year or two, and it makes me try them out. To support that it’s a brilliant method of recording what you are doing, then seeing how it’s affecting things and then changing your practices based on the results.”

We’re excited to continue to support Gusbourne, and to see how their regenerative management develops over time.

Guest Post: A practical comparison of the financial and ecological benefits of biodiversity at two sites in the UK

Guest Post: A practical comparison of the financial and ecological benefits of biodiversity at two sites in the UK 2560 2560 Sectormentor

A tale of two approaches: a guest post
by Joel Jorgensen (Vinescapes)

A practical comparison of the financial and ecological benefits of biodiversity at two sites in the UK

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.

To recap:

Site A:

  • No compaction 
  • No tilling, subsoiling, cultivating or ploughing for many years 
  • Very little herbicide use
  • Diverse flora mix between the alleys and under-vine
  • Reactive spray program

Site B: 

  • Tidy, short grass between the rows
  • Totally weed free
  • Quick establishment
  • Robust spray program

Inspired by Abby and the team at Vidacycle, Vinescapes’ vineyard managers monitor ground conditions, soil structure and soil biology very closely to better understand what the soil can do for the plants and vice versa.

Interestingly, the average scores over time for sites A and B have been very different since planting. 

 

Site A

Site B

Earthworm counts 26 13
VESS mixed size bobbly crumbs Large angular blocks
Rhizosheaths some roots coated no coating, roots white
Spade-ability Very easy Very hard
Summary Living soil with porous and spongy structure, lots of roots, insects and worm activity. Always moist but never waterlogged.  Ground is just soil. Very few living organisms, few pores and limited drainage. Often over-dry or waterlogged.  

Site A – crumb-like aggregate soil, scoring well on the VESS test

Site B – angular blocky soil, scoring poorly on the VESS test

It is clear (confirmed in many other sites) that having less compaction and increased biodiversity within the vineyard, and especially near the vine roots, has a huge impact on the soil structure and food web. Fed by the flora population, the worm, fungal and insect activity within the soil creates a healthy soil structure with increased porosity, resilience, strength, and nutrition. I can’t think of a machine that can replicate this! In practical terms this means less need for subsoiling, artificial drainage, cultivation, or fertilisation.   

2021 was a tough season for many growers; with cooler than average temperatures, lower than average GDD, high and frequent rainfall at times and relatively high disease pressure (Downy and Powdery Mildew, Phomopsis and Botrytis). We were not at all surprised to find Downy Mildew and Botrytis in site B despite frequent fungicide use, while site A remained spotless all season with nearly half of the number of sprays. 

After harvest the soil analysis showed site A was only slightly lacking Phosphorus and Potassium, both of which are removed from the vineyard in the grapes, while Site B was deficient in Nitrogen, Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, Phosphorus, Potassium, Boron, Molybdenum, Zinc and Sodium. This is clearly linked to the soils’ relative Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC) – where site A is climbing past 23, while site B is scoring only 8.5 and was declining. A soil’s CEC can indicate its ability to hold and release (exchange) nutrients in plant available forms. A soil with very low CEC will leach(lose) most synthetic fertilisers quickly while a soil with higher CEC will hold nutrients and release them to the plants as needed. Whilst the CEC is largely dictated by the soil’s texture class (% Sand, Silt, Clay and Organic Matter) it can be improved by increasing the organic matter content thus enhancing the soil food web and effectively improving the soils natural ability to create, hold, and supply nutrients to the vines. All living soil borne organisms play a role in this process and anything that disrupts the soil, also disrupts these organisms. 

Screenshots from Sectormentor’s Earthworm Indicator tool showing the differing earthworm counts at site A & site B against UK benchmarks.

Site A – higher average earthworm counts per block

Site B – lower average earthworm counts per block

The relative cost differences involved with managing site A vs B are eye watering. The extra sprays, fertiliser inputs, mowing and weed control required in site B drive the management costs to the limits, not to mention the benefits of allowing true terroir to shine through in Site A.

Site B is now on a journey of soil recovery, with improving Brassica mixes sowed with a no-till drill and a lighter tractor purchased to help limit compaction. PAS100 Compost has been spread at 50T/ha and we have stopped using herbicides altogether. We have installed weather stations too, so we can confidently reduce the sprays when safe to do so.

We’re looking forward to seeing how things progress at both sites, and how the soil test results change over time. 

Diverse natural flora at site A

Brassica mix planted in site B to support biodiversity & soil health

We are proud to support a number of vineyard consultancies that use Sectormentor to support their work in the vineyard. A number of the consultancies have also started to introduce visual soil monitoring and other regenerative indicators aided by Sectormentor, and we will be telling more of these stories in upcoming months.

We first heard Joel at Vinescapes tell this story at an SWGB meeting, and we thought it was a brilliant demonstration of the importance of soil health observation and the core practices that support regenerative viticulture. It’s great to hear how Sectormentor helps Joel keep track of client account data, and bring together a full picture of vine and soil health. We’re looking forward to seeing how things progress at both sites, and to continue to support the great work that Vinescapes do.

The secret science of why biodiversity is key to regenerative viticulture: learnings from Dr. Christine Jones

The secret science of why biodiversity is key to regenerative viticulture: learnings from Dr. Christine Jones 599 572 Sectormentor

The secret science of why biodiversity is key to regenerative viticulture: learnings from Dr. Christine Jones

US-based cover crop supplier Green Cover Seed recently hosted a fascinating 4-part webinar series with Dr. Christine Jones. We definitely encourage you to watch them, but to get you started we’ve pulled together some of the key insights from these videos, with a specific focus on how Christine’s teachings can be applied to regenerative viticulture.

The main takeaway from across these four webinars is that diversity in living plants is the most important focus on any farm aiming to build healthy soil and healthy plants. This is a topic that has been discussed in the regenerative farming community for a while, but Christine shares how soil science is beginning to explain the mechanisms occurring between diverse living roots and the soil microbiome (the makeup of fungi and bacteria) and it all starts to make a lot of sense. 

Christine makes clear that diversity aboveground is directly linked to diversity belowground, and diversity belowground is linked to the health and carbon storage capability of the soil as well as pest and disease resistance of any plants communing with that soil. There’s no doubt that these outcomes are of real significance for any viticulturist! 

So how does this all work, and what are the key messages for viticulturists learning to regenerate their piece of earth? We’ve pulled out three key areas that Christine shared about:

  1. The fungal energy pathway & the soil microbiome 

Christine cites some of the papers presented at the Wageningen Soil Conference we wrote about here, emphasising that the early model of the soil food web is beginning to be replaced by a new, more dynamic model. Previous models of the soil carbon pathway (or soil food web) were fairly linear, with carbon entering the soil through breakdown of above ground matter and detritus by larger organisms and fungi, propelled by a chain of soil organisms eating another. It is now understood that this ‘decomposer’ food web pathway is only responsible for small amounts of carbon entering soils. We are beginning to replace this conventional soil food web diagram with a new model, with fungi at the forefront. 

It is now understood that the vast majority of carbon entering soils does so through the ‘fungal energy channel’, which Christine also refers to as the liquid carbon pathway. Essentially, living plants use sunlight and atmospheric CO2 to photosynthesise, creating sugars (carbon) which are channelled down into the roots and released in the form of root exudates to the surrounding soil. These exudates are consumed by a multitude of fungal and bacterial communities, which transport carbon compounds around the soil.

 A healthy microbiome (dominated by saprotrophic and symbiotic fungi) will stabilise the majority of this carbon within the soil. It is this process of moving carbon from the air into stable soil compounds which is referred to as the fungal energy channel, or liquid carbon pathway (1). This fungal network is also responsible for supplying energy to bacterial communities producing plant-available phosphorus and fixing nitrogen into the soil.

Green Cover Seed webinar 4/4
Image of fungal hyphae in healthy soil

The health of your soil is a key determinant of how effective this fungal energy channel is, and a simple way to observe the pathway in action is by looking for rhizosheaths in your cover crop mix – they are evidence of fungal hyphae feeding off sugars exuded from plant roots and fixing nitrogen. You can keep a record of your score for rhizosheaths at set sample locations in the Sectormentor app! 

The diversity of plants growing in the soil is core to improving your fungal pathway. This is true for a number of different reasons:

  1. Structure: A variety of different leaf structures increases opportunity for photosynthesis with more light interception, increasing the rate at which root exudates draw down energy through the fungal pathway.
  2. Microbe sharing: Plants from different functional groups cooperate with each other, and are able to recruit microbes from each other’s microbiome, as long as the roots are able to mingle near each other. E.g. If your vines are grown alongside a drought-tolerant herb in a low rainfall scenario, the vine can signal to microbes on the roots of neighbouring plants that have drought-tolerant characteristics. The vine may then ingest these microbes as endophytes (so they become part of the plants internal microbiome), which ‘switch on’ certain genes in the plant to thicken cell walls for water retention, making the vine more drought tolerant. When drought pressure subsides, the vine can then expel this endophyte and the genes are switched off again (2). We were blown away by this! (NB: Christine does point out that plants from the SAME functional group can end up competing with each other, so having different functional groups is VITAL)
  3. Fungi thrive: The microbial makeup of your soil more or less determines the likelihood that carbon levels will build up in the soil rather than being respired away. For the best functioning of the fungal energy pathway, and the most effective carbon storage, the soil ideally has fungal-dominance. What is required for the fungi community to thrive? Greater diversity of functional plant groups present!

The message from Christine is to prioritise diversity! Christine acknowledges that mycorrhizae play an important part in vineyards (we know vines have strong mycorrhizal associations), but mycorrhizae are just one part of the fungal story. Cover crop species without mycorrhizal associations are often equally important in the fungal energy channel.

Green Cover Seed webinar 4/4
Diverse inter-row cover crop

2. The importance of signalling chemicals – the language of the microbiome

You can think of soil as a complex network of microbial life. This microbial community is fed by the aboveground world through plant roots and their exudates, and these microbes send out signalling chemicals to interact with each other and with roots in the soil (3). Christine refers to this complex network of connections as the ‘soil sociobiome’. 

One way to activate certain elements of the soil sociobiome is by adding signalling chemicals to the soil ecosystem. Christine defines a biostimulant as a substance that activates many of the dormant microbes in the soil. We learn that the majority of soil microbes exist in a dormant state until they are activated by biochemical signalling.

Christine’s advice is that it is best to apply biostimulants to seeds before sowing (which we’ve heard re-iterated by Nicole Masters and John Kempf), as the most important feature of biostimulants is the signalling chemicals they contain. Ideally, a germinating seed should be forming a strong relationship with soil microbes from the beginning of its life, and establish a healthy endosphere – the microbiome within the plant itself. Using biostimulants as inoculants for new vineyard and cover crop plantings will maximise these kinds of associations. We also learn that a biostimulant produced through a fermentation method will contain many more signalling chemicals than one from aerobic production methods (e.g. vermicompost, korean natural farming products, bokashi). These chemicals have been observed to persist in the soil across multiple generations of plants, so the effects on the soil microbiome can last (4). 

N.B. Vermicompost is considered a fermented product due to processes in the worm’s gut causing fermentation.

3. Reduced pest & disease pressure

Increased plant diversity also increases crop resistance to pests and diseases. Christine refers to expanses of monoculture as a “recipe for disaster” in terms of pest pressure. 

This buffer against pest pressure is not always about eliminating the pest or disease, but about supporting the crop to be more resilient, and better equipped to fight infection and remain productive. There are more microbial cells in plants than there are plant cells, and this ‘endosphere’ of bacteria, archaea & fungi moving around among the cells of the plants are capable of supporting the plant to resist pest and disease damage. 

Plants ‘call for help’ when they are under attack from pests or diseases, and free living microbes in the soil can be ingested to support a defence against this attack (2). This call for help will go unanswered if the soil microbiome lacks sufficient health to respond. The solution is to ensure diverse cover crop species are planted in the inter-row to support proper functioning of the soil microbiome, so soil microbes can be internalised by distressed crops through roots when needed.

Key actions to take from these webinars

  • Keep ground in between rows of vines (and below vines) covered with diverse living roots for as much of the year as possible. If your inter-row is bare, your soil health will begin to deteriorate and carbon will be lost from the soil.  
  • Try to include at least 4 different functional groups in cover crop mixes for inter-row planting & maximise the opportunity for these crop mixes to interact with each other and with your vines below ground.  One case study mix that Christine mentions is of four species – radish (brassica), oats (grass family), sunflower (aster family) and phacelia (borage family). The key here is that each of these plants belong to different functional groups, allowing for maximum benefit in the soil sociobiome. Despite the fact that none of these plants are legumes, this mix still allows for nitrogen fixing and availability, and outperformed mixes of only legume species in field trials. 
  • Application of biostimulants to roots and seeds before planting will support the fungal pathway (e.g Johnson-Su compost, vermicompost or bokashi). 
  • Fungicides are the most detrimental agrichemical to the fungal energy pathway. Experiment with reducing / removing fungicide spray rounds across the vineyard alongside biostimulant application & diverse cropping. 

Why monitor % short shoots? Regenerative viticulturist Dan Rinke explains

Why monitor % short shoots? Regenerative viticulturist Dan Rinke explains 1920 2560 Sectormentor

Why monitor % short shoots? Hear from regenerative viticulturist Dan Rinke about the newest addition to the Vine Health Report…

We first learned the power of monitoring pruning weights from growers like Will Davenport of Davenport Organic and Matt Strugnell of Ridgeview Estate, alongside some brilliant insights on how pruning weights might be linked to yield from Frances Trappey of Vinescapes (previously Rathfinny).  Building on those ideas, Dan Rinke of Art Science Cider Wine in Oregon has witnessed a similar phenomenon linking his pruning weights to the yield prediction for the following season: 

“I also monitor pruning weights for when I’m allocating and selling contracts for the year ahead. I know if there is a lower pruning weight in a particular block, then I will lower the yield prediction for those grapes in the next year.”

We initially developed the Sectormentor Vine Health Indicator to allow growers to link their pruning weights to the productivity and health of their vines, and it is already used by Will, Matt, Frances and Dan to locate and observe these trends.

We’ve recently released an exciting new update to the report, in line with another indicator that Dan Rinke has found to be a great compliment to pruning weights – tracking the percentage of short shoots across the vines…

The Vine Health Indicator – observing trends in % short shoots across three blocks over three seasons.

“The percentage of short shoots is a really good indicator of vine health in my experience. I have found that there is a direct correlation between an increasing number of short shoots and a decline in health of the vines. You get a higher % of short shoots when there are more shoots per vine and tighter internode spacing, so there are many more shoots, and more short shoots generally.

When looking at the numbers, knowing the % of short shoots completes the pruning weight data. It helps to explain the pruning weights better because it helps you understand: if you have a low pruning weight, is it because you have less viable shoots or is there just less vigour per shoot? If the weights are higher, did you have more viable shoots or did the individual shoots just weigh more because they were bigger? I’ve seen less shoots due to internode spacing decrease the % of short shoots and vice versa.”

“If we see an upward trend in % short shoots every year, we most likely have either nutritional or disease issues. There is clearly something wrong with the health of the vines and it is probably nutrition related. For big vineyards, measuring % short shoots as well as pruning weights can result in a huge cost saving, as it indicates specific blocks to include in a nutritional program.”

Dan counts the number of short shoots and the total number of shoots at the same time as pruning (and weighing his prunings). For his VSP trellis system a short shoot is defined as any shoot shorter than half the canopy (i.e less than 18 inches / 45 cm).

“For people who won’t spend the time monitoring pruning weights, then I encourage them to at least record % shorts shoots, because it’s fairly quick and you can still get year on year trends to see an early indication of the health of the vines. And for anyone already monitoring pruning weights, it’s such an easy addition and it gives you much more information.”

Dan, Matt, Frances and Will all use Sectormentor to support them in turning data collected in the field into immediate reports, so they can take actions with plenty of advance warning. Sectormentor facilitates improving the longevity of their vines, and improves the efficiency of the running of their vineyards. Whether your vineyard is sustainable certified, organic,  biodynamic, or early on in a regenerative journey, the Sectormentor Vine Health Report, now including % short shoots monitoring, is here to help!

Interview: Luke Spalding’s regenerative experiments at Everflyht Vineyard

Interview: Luke Spalding’s regenerative experiments at Everflyht Vineyard 1120 1120 Sectormentor

Interview:
Luke Spalding’s regenerative experiments at Everflyht Vineyard

Luke Spalding is vineyard manager at the beautiful Everflyht Vineyard in East Sussex. Luke is an innovator, experimenter and self proclaimed data lover, who inspires us with his curiosity and openness to learning through mistakes – a truly regenerative mindset!

You may remember Luke from his excellent interview with fellow viticulturist Dan Rinke in our Regenerative Viticulture Series, or from our blog from a visit we made to Everflyht back in 2019.

We’ve caught up with Luke again for an update on his regenerative experiments, to talk observation, soil health, and following the regenerative path. The beautiful photos used in this interview are all from Luke’s instagram – follow him @the_country_gent to learn more.

Do you feel that there’s been a change in mindset required for shifting towards regenerative viticulture?

“For me the change in approach happened when I started to learn and immerse myself in the never ending subject of soil health and balance. It was not so much a shift in mindset, more a change in understanding of my own position. I know I will never know everything or have finished learning, I will never be in control or ‘right’, and not everything I do or practise will work. Once you come to terms with that, then you can begin regenerative methods of farming and viticulture.”

What are the main challenges you have faced practising these regenerative methods?

“I think for me it was where to start – with the spray program, with the vines, with the soil, inputs, or with the wider ecosystem. In the end I started with focusing on the soil, and then began to look outwards at the wider ecosystem.” 

What are the main benefits of your practice so far?

“To be honest, it is too early to tell. Plus – I do not have enough data yet to be confident in saying openly what I think. But I do believe we are on the right path.”

This has been a tough year with high disease pressure for UK vineyards – how have you worked on managing disease pressure regeneratively?

“This year has been, I would say, the most challenging that I have had since I started growing grapes. For the last year or so I have been cutting back on conventional chemicals and copper use in the vineyard, but this year the pressure was simply too great. I am pleased however that 2021 was the second year in a row that we have not used any insecticides at Everflyht.”

Which regenerative experiments have worked well for you in the past year?

“I think in time the undervine green mulch that we have been experimenting with for the past two years will show some great benefits. I think this will be the case not just for vineyards in the UK, but also to support dry farming around the world.” 

How important is observation for you in the vineyard? 

“For me observation is one of the fundamentals. You just have to get out into the field, have a good look at what’s going on, and take measurements as you go.” 

What are your tips and tricks for others trying to take a more regenerative approach?

Do not follow or copy someone else’s path or route – you need to find your own way, and learn what works for you on the site you have. By all means talk and share ideas – but change them, and make adaptations for your own site and working style. I feel the results are better that way.

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Optimising your yield prediction – getting the bunch weights right!

Optimising your yield prediction – getting the bunch weights right! 2560 1707 Sectormentor

Optimising your yield prediction – getting the bunch weights right!

We know that counting bunches as the grapes are growing on the vines is a hugely important part of the vineyard monitoring calendar. A thorough bunch count gets you around 60% of the way to an accurate yield prediction, with the other 40% coming from understanding your bunch weights. After working with many different vineyard managers, we have found that taking steps to optimise your yield prediction means you can consistently get your prediction to within 5% of your actual yield – well worth it! In this post we will focus on optimising those final steps of the yield prediction, and using your intuition, combined with all of the data available, to ensure you get the best prediction possible.

As Luke Spalding, vineyard manager at Everflyht Vineyard in Sussex, told us:

“Without a good yield prediction, it can create a lot of stress for the vineyard team, as harvesting time can get out of control. It also creates stress in the winery when you don’t know how much is coming in or when the harvest is going to stop!”

So…. you have got a  good estimate of your bunch count, now how do you get the best estimate of your bunch weights? Let’s talk you through different ways people approach this and how our newly released Sectormentor tools help with each… 

Counting bunches at Everflyht Vineyard with Luke Spalding

The art of estimating bunch weights: from early estimates to lag/veraison

The most common method for creating your first yield prediction of the season is to use the average bunch weight from past years combined with current bunch counts. This is good for getting a vague first estimate but we have learnt over many harvests that for lots of sites there is almost no such thing as an ‘average year’ – each year zig-zags quite considerably around the average, so calculating a prediction based on this concept of an average can send you way off! We notice people will often say things like ‘this season is shaping up to be just like 2016’ – so the Yield Predictor now makes it easy to select bunch weights from a particular past season, for making an early prediction of this year’s yield. If current growing patterns remind you of the 2018 season, you can go in and use the average bunch weights from 2018 in your prediction for this year.

Once you hit lag phase or veraison many viticulturists will weigh some bunches to get an early idea of actual bunch weights for this year. At this point, in Sectormentor it’s very easy to update your yield prediction with the average lag/veraison bunch weights from each block (these were entered into the app and then Sectormentor automatically calculates the average for each block) combined with a multiplier appropriate to each block/varietal.

Joel Jorgensen, viticulturist and consultant at Veraison, has been using the new Sectormentor update.

He told us: “Being able to quickly and easily make a prediction that integrates bunch weights from specific past seasons is brilliant. Of course there is no ‘average’ season, but often a season feels similar to a past year, so being shown an estimate of the predicted yield based on historic bunch weights for each block is very powerful.”

Estimation Ranges

We often hear vineyard managers remembering the year with the biggest yield, or recalling painful memories of their worst, lowest yielding year. Knowing what possible extremes might look like, based on past years, presents a more complete picture of what your harvest could look like.

Do the berries look particularly small this year? Or maybe the bunches are some of the heaviest you have seen…

With the Sectormentor Yield Predictor Report you can see the heaviest and lightest bunch weight you’ve ever recorded in each block and we extrapolate from that what this years yield in each block would look like if either of those extremes happened (taking into account how many bunches you’ve counted this year).

These estimation ranges are now standard as part of each yield prediction, helping you to see on a block by block basis what the likely range of yields are. As the season progresses and you update your prediction, this estimation range becomes increasingly useful, as you get a sense for this year in relation to others, with all the numbers at your fingertips.

We spoke to Will Davenport, at Davenport Vineyards in Sussex & Kent, after he’d tried out the new updates:

“Having the high and low estimates really helps us plan tank space effectively as we have a better idea of the upper and lower ranges for yields we can expect from each varietal.”

Joel at Veraison found the estimation range update has made his yield estimates much quicker and easier:

“A good estimation range is also a vital part of creating a yield estimate as so much can change between veraison and harvest, so it’s useful to know best and worst case scenarios as early as possible. I’ve never had this kind of information at my fingertips before – Sectormentor is making it faster and easier to do my job, and helping me to access powerful information that previously took hours of complicated spreadsheets.

This is about optimising those final steps of the yield prediction, and using your intuition, combined with all of the data available, to ensure you get the best prediction possible.

Example shot of the estimation range in the Yield Prediction Report 🍇

Historical bunch weights reporting

If you need a reminder of what your historical bunch weights were in past seasons, we have created a brand new Sectormentor historical bunch weights report, to help you pick the right season for this year’s prediction.

Get in touch with us at info@vidacycle.com if you have historical bunch weight data that you want us to upload to Sectormentor – we’re very happy to do so! Just make sure it’s clear which of your Sectormentor blocks the bunch weights belong to 🌞

We’d love to hear what you think of these updates. Fo let us know if you have any feedback or questions, or if there’s anything we can do to support.

Example shot of the Historical Bunch Weights Report 🍇

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Regenerative Viticulture Series #3 with Dan Rinke

Regenerative Viticulture Series #3 with Dan Rinke 575 575 Sectormentor

Regenerative Viticulture Series #3
The Practicalities of Regenerative Viticulture with Dan Rinke and Luke Spalding

Dan Rinke consults vineyards, orchards, wineries and cideries looking for support in converting to regenerative farming and low intervention wine making, with Art+Science+Cider+Wine Agronomy. His winegrowing career began with university studies in viticulture and plant science. After working at several vineyards in California, Dan took the position as Winegrower (manager/winemaker) at Johan Vineyards, an 88-acre certified organic/biodynamic, dry farmed, and minimally tilled vineyard/winery in Oregon. Dan speaks and consults internationally about implementing regenerative approaches to improve the ecology and profitability of the vineyard.

In this session, Dan is in conversation with Luke Spalding, manager of the beautiful Everflyht Vineyard in Sussex. Luke and Dan cover a real range of topics, with a focus on more on-the-ground implementation of regenerative viticulture methods. They dig in to the practicalities of alternative inputs, building habitats for your ecosystem cleansers with ramial woodchip piles, learning from sap analyses, micro-nutrients, and wood chip applications. We learn about implementing no-till in a vineyard, cover crop mixes, and the liquid carbon pathway to name a few! Dan also shares his key tools for a fully organic and biodynamic approach and some of the theory behind why those approaches work. Watch below to learn from Luke and Dan’s fascinating conversation.

An audience member did also ask a question about iron deficiency in their  soils and the answer to this wasn’t recorded – as a quick summary Dan and Luke spoke about working with biology in a number of different ways: using humic substances to open up the iron availability; potentially encouraging certain plants or ‘weeds’ that mobilise iron; potentially using sheep to bring iron into the system; and trying to encourage microorganisms that mobilise iron. There was also suggestion of considering what is blocking the iron and managing for that as well.

References from Dan & Luke’s talk

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Regenerative Viticulture Series #2 with RegenBen

Regenerative Viticulture Series #2 with RegenBen 800 800 Sectormentor

Regenerative Viticulture Series #2
Regenerative Experiments on a UK Vineyard with Regen Ben

RegenBen is an agronomist, turned farmer, turned regenerative agriculture obsessive! Ben uses biological, peer-reviewed methods to produce low intervention crops, with a clear focus on diversity and experimentation. He is keen to put fun back into farming, and share his learnings as he goes. Ben is BASIS & FACTS certified – it was through doing his Nuffield Scholarship in 2016 that he had his eureka moment, realising regenerative agriculture is a crucially different way of understanding farming.

This conversation with Ben focuses on experiments on his plot of vines, and successes he’s had with regenerative methods across his whole farm. We learn about why Ben identifies ‘regenerative’ farming as a departure from both organic and conventional thinking. He talks about the importance of diversity in regenerative systems, why everything comes back to soil health, under-vine companion cropping, how to address compacted soils and the role of micronutrients in producing quality crops. We learn why, when, and how to use sap analysis, and what to look for in your results. A real range of topics were covered in this session, so there should be learnings for all levels of people interested in regenerative viticulture – from seasoned winegrowers to curious beginners!

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Case Study: Adam Foden at Gusbourne Estate

Case Study: Adam Foden at Gusbourne Estate 750 1000 Sectormentor

Sectormentor helps link soil health to vine productivity – Adam Foden at Gusbourne Estate

Gusbourne Estate spans across two vineyards, one in Kent and one in West Sussex, planted with Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, and Pinot Noir. Their growing ethos is low intervention, allowing nature’s processes to work.

The Gusbourne approach to winemaking is no different – keeping intervention to a minimum to ensure maximum expression and terroir in each bottle. Gusbourne wines have won several international awards, and they are the only three-time winners of the IWSC English Wine Producer of the Year. Adam Foden looks after the vines at the Gusbourne Sussex site.

Sectormentor has empowered Adam to link soil health and vineyard productivity:
 
“Our vines were really struggling in certain spots and we couldn’t figure out why. We sent off soil lab tests and all the indicators were good. We even had the previous farmer out to see if he had any ideas of why certain spots weren’t doing well. It was only after I dug some holes and recorded my observations and overlaid that with other info in Sectormentor that I realised it was the soil structure that needed attention. We were just looking at a compaction issue. We had ordered a load of Magnesium which we were about to apply at a very high rate – it’s great that we figured out the real problem before spinning all of that. We saved ourselves the time and repercussions of overfeeding with Mg. Instead we did some subsoiling in the area and put in mixed cover crops to improve our soil structure.”
 
“I’m very excited to get more into the soils side of it going forward. Soil is something I hadn’t paid loads of attention to even though my background is in horticulture. I never really got down and right into the detail of it, which is what I’m excited about doing. Especially witnessing this compaction issue – that is going to lead on to a regular program of soil maintenance. So we are excited to use the soil side of app over next few years, plotting how that gets better (or worse) as we go ahead.”

Sectormentor frees up Adam’s time and makes collecting information much easier for him and the whole team:

“Sectormentor really does free up my time. Previously I’d have a notebook in the field, and then had to spend 2-3 hours in the office making a spreadsheet with a formula from my notes. It’s a joy to be able to have this all done immediately – you just enter a phenological date and it’s all done, and so easy to use and accessible. It’s become second nature. Inflorescence counts are so easy now – we gave our earliest yield estimate ever this year to the winemaker by the end of June. Usability is brilliant on it, I’ve found it really comfortable to use, and everyone in the team has had a go, there is a whole spectrum of abilities using it.”

“We never really did pruning weights in the past as it felt like too much hassle, but now we’re starting to record them in Sectormentor, and it’s so easy. In some places I’ve been worried we’re stretching the vines too far, so now we’ll be able to see if that’s the case.”

Adam also finds Sectormentor helps to easily share observations with the whole team:

“We had similar information in the past but it sat on many different files, and different people move the files around so you can never find what you’re looking for. Merging all this information into one place means we can easily look at it and everyone is on the same page. As face to face meetings are hard at the moment, I can still easily discuss observations with the team – we know we are both looking at the same data.”

We’re excited to see how things progress at Gusbourne, and particularly how Adam’s soil monitoring journey develops. In response to the compaction issue, Adam has subsoiled and added in a cover crop mix. It will be interesting to see how this affects the Sectormentor soil test results going forwards.

Case Study: Matt Strugnell at Ridgeview Estate

Case Study: Matt Strugnell at Ridgeview Estate 543 407 Sectormentor

Matt Strugnell at Ridgeview Estate


Ridgeview Estate is an award-winning vineyard just to the north of the South Downs in East Sussex. Ridgeview are at the forefront of English sparkling wine production, and ship their delicious wines around the world, having won several international wine trophies in the process.

Matt Strugnell is the viticulturist responsible for managing the vines at Ridgeview, as well as their many partner vineyards – with 20-odd years of grape growing under his belt. Matt is certainly not your typical data geek, but early on he learnt that attentively monitoring vines and being as pro-active as possible in the vineyard is key to harvesting the best quality grapes. He tells us:
 

Sectormentor helps Matt keep things organised 
 
“A big chunk of our vineyard information is now in one place, which saves me so much time. Now, at a glance I can see how the season is progressing so far and how it compares to past years.” 

Visualising his data also helps Matt to plan for the season ahead

“Some people like seeing lists of numbers, but I prefer visualising things on a graph or chart. Using the Sectormentor tools has made it easy to compare different years side by side on graphs which has been really useful for forward-planning. Pretty early on I realised collecting key information about the vineyard is vital so you can plan well ahead and get your timings just right. 

A good example of how it changed my thinking: I had an inkling for a while that flowering and harvest dates were very related but all the information was spread across so many different spreadsheets it was very difficult to compare year to year. With the Phenology Tool that has changed – I can immediately see there is an incredibly consistent relationship between flowering and harvest dates over many years, for each block. I now feel confident that on the day of 50% flowering I can pick up the phone to our contractor and let them know which week we will need a harvesting team – ensuring I’m booked in well ahead of time.”

We’re excited to see how the growing season progresses at Ridgeview, and how their key phenological dates continue to evolve year on year.
 
Read more about the Phenology Tool mentioned by Matt here.