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October 2023

Case study: Vineyard monitoring at Domaine Thomson

Case study: Vineyard monitoring at Domaine Thomson 1600 1200 Sectormentor

Case study: Vineyard monitoring at Domaine Thomson

Domaine Thomson is a family-owned 14ha organic vineyard in the heart of Central Otago, New Zealand. Established over 20 years ago within the valleys of the Cromwell Basin, the vineyard is run by a small team with a particular focus on soil and plant health, resulting in a high quality crop of grapes and beautiful wines. The vineyard uses both organic and biodynamic practices and has been certified with BioGro since 2014. Alongside their vineyard in New Zealand, Domaine Thomson also have several small parcels of vines in Burgundy, France, growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

We spoke to vineyard manager Simon Gourley to discuss his management techniques, the current challenges they are facing and his visions for the future.

“I am now entering my sixth season at Domaine Thomson. I have spent the majority of my career growing and making wine in Central Otago since finishing University. I love the contrast in seasons we experience here, the flavours they produce and the scale of operations where every vine counts. There is no room to hide –  we need to be on top of the ball.”

Working to minimise inputs & operating costs is a challenge faced by viticulturists industry-wide, including the team at Domaine Thomson

Simon is excited to see how improvements in vineyard monitoring can increase efficiency, save on costs and influence business operations. Sectormentor has been brought on as a tool for collecting essential vineyard information and keeping track of patterns to influence future management practice.

Using Sectormentor has allowed Simon to bring together data that had previously been spread across “various old diaries and half completed spreadsheets.”

“Knowing that all my important data is collated and easily accessed from one spot is of great benefit. Paying for the Sectormentor service has also made me use its features and collect data that may have historically been put on the back burner, for example pruning weights. If I’m paying for it, I want to actually use it.”

“We only get one shot at our grapes per year. If historical data can aid the growing and harvest decisions by increasing the quantity and or quality of our one shot, it is very beneficial!”

Pruning weights are an important early indicator of vine health. The weights are susceptible to change from one growing season to the next and can help alert us to a problem within the system – if pruning weights in one block decline below average, it’s often a warning that the vines aren’t getting everything they need.

Pruning weights are often overlooked in vineyards, as it can feel like too much effort to record them and manually analyse their trends. The Sectormentor Vine Health Indicator Tool makes these calculations into a simple two step process to support with this – easily add pruning weight results in the phone app and immediately view the trends for each block to respond accordingly for your management in the season ahead. Click here to learn more about this process!

Photos of pruning weights recorded on Domaine Thomson’s Sectormentor account

Simon has also been using Sectormentor to observe and record soil health across the vineyard

Sectormentor has a range of soil testing options, including checking for soil’s largest creatures, or macrofauna – the counting of earthworms to monitor biological activity – one of the Regen Indicators.

Regen Indicator results can be benchmarked in the Sectormentor Regen Platform, a tool developed by Vidacycle alongside renowned agro-ecologist Nicole Masters and the Integrity Soils team. The Regen Platform supports viticulturists to learn from regenerative growing experiments, exploring soil health to turn results into actions with Nicole’s expert guidance and tips built into the platform.

The Sectormentor Regen Platform – showing traffic light benchmarking of Regen Indicator results

Another Regen Indicator that the team at Domaine Thomson have been recording is scoring their rhizosheaths, coatings of soil particles that cling to plant roots, making them brown instead of white. They are a sign of biological activity in the rhizophere (root zone) as soil particles are bound to the roots by biotic glues, secreted by microorganisms.

With these tools, Sectormentor supports regenerative viticulturists to investigate what is happening below ground. At Domaine Thomson, this attention to soil health is laying the foundation for bountiful harvests for years to come.

Observations of rhizosheaths and flowering from Domaine Thomson’s Sectormentor account

What’s next for Domaine Thomson?

“Continual improvement and growth. Our vines are at a good age now and we are really trying to fine tune our fruit on a very small scale, not necessarily to increase quantity, but to understand the flavours produced and how we can capture those through our growing and winemaking techniques. If Central Otago is missing one thing, it is soil. We are working hard through the use of cover crops and biology, to increase our soil organic matter and structure.”

What do you hope to see in the future for vineyards in New Zealand?

“We are fortunate to have a programme here in NZ called SWNZ (Sustainable Winegrowers New Zealand). With 98% vineyard land accredited, change can be acted virtually industry wide overnight, which is great. I hope to see more regulation around growing practices enacted by our SWNZ programme to ensure we do stay sustainable and not grow ourselves out of an industry with greed or bad management. The majority of our industry is based around a single varietal and style, what happens if that is no longer popular? Perhaps we should be diversifying where possible.”

It was great to catch up with Simon and learn more about how the Domaine Thomson team use data monitoring to learn from patterns in the vineyard and keep track of progress. We’re proud to be working with vineyard teams on a regenerative transition such as this one.

Get in touch with us on if you want to learn more about Sectormentor, and how it might support with your operation – we’re always happy to chat!