Case studies

Roebuck Estates vineyard manager using app Sectormentor to monitor vineyard

Case study: Sectormentor becomes a vital tool for the Roebuck Estates team

Case study: Sectormentor becomes a vital tool for the Roebuck Estates team 2560 1707 Sectormentor

Case study: Sectormentor becomes a vital tool for the Roebuck Estates team

Roebuck Estates has vineyards across 6 sites in the UK. Their sites are spread across East and West Sussex and Kent so they are able to reap the rewards and benefits of each site with its different aspect, area, microclimate, soil. They have 82 blocks that they monitor individually across the 6 sites enabling them to maximise the quality of their grapes.

This also means the team move around quite a bit and Sectormentor has become a core part of how the team communicate and keep track of what’s happening at each site.

Vineyard Technician, Cassie Burch, shared more: “Sectormentor is a great tool, it’s easy, it’s there on your phone – you don’t have to write stuff down. When we sync, Jake can see what’s going on and might ask us to double check, or recount something. It’s just a great way to communicate as a team and it’s all in one place. It is recorded and it’s not like a group chat where you have to scroll through and think what was that again. It’s a really great hub of information we can all add to or get something from, so I really like using it.”

A screenshot from the Roebuck Sectormentor account at one of their sample sites, showing photos of everything from Regen Indicators, to pruning weights.

Jake Wicks, vineyard manager at Roebuck Estates, told us how it helps him:

“Sectormentor is a very powerful tool, giving visual feedback of what is actually happening at all the sites. I can glance at it quickly. Also it’s easy for me to pull stuff off of it for presentations for other teams in the business.

The strong visual aspect and all the photos work really well so I can explain what is going on in the vineyard really quickly and easily. It sounds simple, but people on the ground being able to take pictures of whatever they find in the vineyard and get that straight back to the desk is really helpful.”

Roebuck have been experimenting with what it looks like to take a more regenerative approach in their vineyards.

Their first focus has been to remove the use of herbicide on established sites. In the 2022 season they experimented with using a Clemens Multiclean, which strims undervine, at one of their sites and it worked so well that they have been using it across all their established sites this last season, meeting their goal of using no herbicide and ensuring the soil remains undisturbed.

They also had an ecologist join their team who is in the vineyard 50% of the time and then 50% focused on improving the habitat and increasing biodiversity across the land.

 Jake shared how they are looking forward to benefitting from new Reports in Sectormentor as they change approaches, alongside the many other reports Roebuck are already using:

“We are already using tools like the Yield predictor and Phenology-GDD tool.
It’s so handy that we are able to get an updated yield prediction from our lag weights in seconds, Sectormentor even helps makes it possible for us to do an early yield prediction as it’s so easy to do inflorescence counts. We can immediately compare charge counts this year with last year, learn from our pruning weights.

Going forward we are excited about the potential Sectormentor Reports have for us, the app has introduced us to the Regen Indicators which is really going to help us monitor our progress as we shift our approach.

We are also keen to do more recording of the biodiversity around our sites. It will be great to see what we do have and what we don’t have and what we can do to get what we don’t have into the vineyards.”

The Phenology-GDD graph for one of Roebuck’s blocks, showing how GDD changed day to day and cumulatively across the season and at what point each phenological stage occurred.

Jake summarised:

“At Roebuck Estates, Sectormentor helps our vineyard team monitor vines both above and below ground. We are able to gather a significant amount of data on a block-by-block basis which enables us to predict yields, monitor ripeness, understand soil health and biodiversity, and track the effectiveness of vineyard activities all year round.

As a relatively young vine-growing industry, and without hundreds of years of historical data, the information we gather on Sectormentor supplements the knowledge our vineyard team gather on a daily basis, helps fast track our understanding of our six individual sites across Sussex and aids vital decision making throughout the growing season.”

It was great to learn more about how the Roebuck Estates team use data monitoring to keep everyone in the loop, learn from patterns in the vineyard and keep track of progress.

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!

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!

Case Study: Albury Organic Vineyard

Case Study: Albury Organic Vineyard 1920 2560 Sectormentor

Sectormentor  – Albury Organic Vineyard

Albury Vineyard is a producer of delicious wines from their grapes in the Surrey Hills – where they are committed to implementing sustainable and regenerative farming techniques, including reducing their use of chemical herbicides & fungicides, and improving biodiversity. We are proud to have supported Albury in fulfilling on their regenerative goals with Sectormentor for the past 4 years.

The team at Albury manage three sites, one is biodynamic, one organic and one conventional – all three are certified sustainable. Albury are one of the founder members of Sustainable Wines of Great Britain (SWGB), and Albury viticulturist Alex Valsecchi and vineyard manager Dominic Travers have been leading the SWGB Viticulture working group from the beginning – so they were perfectly placed to be the first vineyard to go through the SWGB audit process in 2020.

Alex and her team have always monitored many aspects of the vineyard, as in her experience this is a vital part of being as sustainable as possible; “how can you be sustainable if you don’t know what’s going on out there, and how things are changing year to year – you need data to support more sustainable decision making and optimise your farming system.”

Sectormentor has enabled Alex and Dominic to easily understand where they spend their time and save weeks of work:
This year Albury are due for their second SWGB audit. During this interim, SWGB have developed an online repository where all members can submit their evidence, making the whole process as easy as possible for farmers and auditors.
Alex shared how vital the Work Report in Sectormentor has been for their understanding of where they spend their time, and the ease of then reporting this for SWGB.
“We do all our work reporting and vineyard maintenance diary in Sectormentor now. It’s perfect for our size operation. All our spray records are in there and we can easily export whichever operation or treatment we are looking at, whether we are trying to understand something for ourselves or we need it for organic or biodynamic certification.
For SWGB it’s brilliant, we just download the report at the end of the season and it’s done. I am actually looking forward to our SWGB audit this year as I think we will be able to fill in the repository in a number of hours rather than weeks.”

Sectormentor helps Dominic and Alex streamline working together across multiple sites

Alex was clear that although Sectormentor makes the SWGB reporting much easier, the real value of Sectormentor goes far beyond that:

“The app really helps us have everything unified across the board. Before we were feeding all our information into spreadsheets, sharing that with the team, it was a bit mix and match. Now we have a unified system, where Dominic and I can both record what’s happening as we go, even if we are at different sites from each other. It will also make onboarding our new team member so easy.”

Alex also finds the reports on Sectormentor provide useful and valuable on the ground insights

“I really like that it has made life easier and simplified things for us, but the most important thing about Sectormentor is that it is not just about record keeping, it simplifies that, yes, but then it actually makes that information useful in the reports. That is so helpful.”

This is certainly a trend we have seen at Vidacycle; the most profitable, ecological and beautiful vineyards really value and understand the importance of monitoring key metrics, so they will prioritise taking the time to collect that data throughout the year whenever possible.

They can then take the next step, which is to learn from that data and feed it back into their decision making. Many of the reports on Sectormentor have been made in response to working with brilliant viticulturists, and learning what is the most powerful way for you to visualise the data:

“I think what makes Sectormentor so unique and useful is that you aren’t just making software for vineyards, you also run a vineyard and know what tools we really need to make the vineyard work.”

Alex is excited for the season ahead. They have also recently updated their sprayer and mower, other vital tools that will allow them to do their work more efficiently and sustainably.

We’re looking forward to continuing to learn from Albury’s journey, and supporting the monitoring of key vineyard metrics for audit. If you are a SWGB, Organic or Biodynamic certified vineyard, are transitioning to regenerative or are just nerdy about data and want to learn from what you are recording in your vineyard – get in touch to arrange a call – we’d be happy to chat about how we can support you with Sectormentor.

How can Sectormentor support your vineyard?

Interview: Luke Spalding’s regenerative experiments at Everflyht Vineyard

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

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.

🌿 Enjoyed this blog? 🌿
Click here to sign up to the Sectormentor email newsletter, to be sent our latest blogs, and other updates on vine monitoring and regenerative viticulture 💜

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.

Case Study: Successful vintner, Will Davenport, tells us how Sectormentor helps him harvest top quality grapes

Case Study: Successful vintner, Will Davenport, tells us how Sectormentor helps him harvest top quality grapes 1920 2560 Sectormentor


Every year Will found himself struggling to keep on top of everything he needed to know in the run up to harvest to ensure they got the best quality grapes:

“The ripening process is different every year and choosing picking dates can be crucial to wine quality. I was keeping data on spreadsheets to monitor ripeness in each block, a time consuming process that ended up with a mass of numbers and dates.”

That all changed once he started using the Sectormentor Ripeness Indicator:

“Thankfully that has all changed with Sectormentor’s Ripeness Indicator – trends in sugar and acid are shown clearly in graph format and previous years can be easily compared – it’s all in one place and updated as soon as new information comes in. Last Autumn it was immediately obvious that our sugar levels weren’t increasing whilst acidity levels were dropping in certain blocks – we knew it was going to rain all week, so we were able to quickly make the decision to pick sooner in those areas and avoid increased disease pressure.

Everyone on the team helped gather the data and decision making felt effortlessly responsive. The data is accessible to all the key staff in the winery and vineyard. I feel confident we harvested just at the right time producing higher quality grapes as a result.”


Reducing inputs: cover crops, mulching and biodiversity with Luke Spalding at Everflyht Vineyard

Reducing inputs: cover crops, mulching and biodiversity with Luke Spalding at Everflyht Vineyard 2000 1333 Sectormentor

Luke is running fascinating trials at Everflyht Vineyard, which we had the pleasure of seeing when we visited in August 2019. He sees the positive management of ecology as an investment in the long-term health of the vineyard. Improving soil carbon and biodiversity kick-starts natural cycles, building healthy soil which supports healthy vines, and healthy vines require fewer inputs. We love to see a vineyard working with nature in this way!

Reducing herbicides with under vine mulching
Luke is exploring an alternative weed control to herbicides; he hand weeded several rows in May and laid out straw under the vines as a mulch layer. The straw suppresses and smothers out weeds, as they are shielded from light and air. It’s working well, although there are a few drawbacks – the straw is expensive and it’s time consuming doing the initial weeding and laying it out. The straw they tried this year is specially formulated by Leeds University; it is infused with iron, magnesium and a natural slug repellent. One herbicide application is still required at the end or the beginning of the season, but this is a good reduction from the 2-3 applications in rows without straw mulch (which also have a healthy crop of thistles underneath!). Luke feels this method has great potential, particularly if the cost of straw can be reduced and if the weed burden gets lighter and lighter each year in the mulched rows as is predicted.

Mulching straw also benefits soil health under the vines, as it covers the soil which prevents soil moisture from evaporating (particularly useful if you’re in a drier, hotter climate). It provides a source of organic matter as it gradually decomposes, which stimulates and feeds the microbial community in the soil which in turn release nutrients for the vines to take up. Applying any herbicides or chemicals disrupts microbial activity, and so making an effort to reduce these inputs helps the natural cycles to start working with you. 

Encouraging biodiversity and soil health with cover crops
In between the rows Luke seed drilled a deep rooting cover crop of red clover, buckwheat, phacelia, cocksfoot grass and ryegrass. The phacelia sprung up tall, dramatically increasing the number of pollinators to the point where two bee hives have naturally formed on the outskirts of the vineyard in old rabbit warrens! The original seed mix only had 20% grasses but they turned out to be very vigorous growers, out competing nearly all the other plants in the mix. Luke mows the grass strips in between the vines every 2-3 weeks and the cuttings are discharged out from the sides of the mower and straight under the vines, creating a green mulch on the soil (and adding to the straw mulch where this is being trialled). Read this paper about floor management and how green mulch is can improve fruit set!

Although cocksfoot grass is great as the roots go down around 40cm Luke plans to reseed the cover crop mix in between the vines to regain the plant diversity he had before, adding red clover, phacelia and buckwheat back in. This is important for attracting beneficial insects and helps build soil health too. A diverse range of roots will stimulate the soil biology which generally improves soil structure. Deeper rooting plants in the cover crop mix are great for breaking up compacted areas of soil. A diverse and deep root system opens up new channels for water and air to percolate down through the soil profile and be stored for uptake by the vines in dryer periods and helps turn the subsoil from anaerobic to aerobic. This all helps to improve drainage, which has been a big challenge at the site. Luke’s diverse plantings don’t stop at in between the vines, he is using a similar cover crop mix to prepare a 4.5 hectare site to be planted up with vines in 2021. This invests in improving soil health, as legumes fix nitrogen and there is lots of root to soil interaction, sequestering carbon, getting all the great microbial and fungal life going before the new vines go in.

Reducing pesticides with buffer strips
Phacelia is abundant in buffer strips along the sides of the vineyard, which attracts a healthy population of pollinators and beneficial insects. At the moment Luke monitors the insects that pose a threat to his crop, but he’d like to monitor beneficial ones in the future too. Then he could see how the populations buffer each other, and if they are in balance.

Luke sets traps to catch one of the insects he would rather not have – the brown apple moth. If there are more than 14 moths in the trap in a month period he usually sprays the vines to reduce them and 11 has been the highest count so far. It’s great he hasn’t had to spray this season, which could be due to them being predated by bees, wasps and hoverflies attracted by the buffer strips. If you’re reading this and you manage a vineyard, have you also seen reduced brown apple moth pressure this year?

Using techniques to encourage plant and insect diversity, improve carbon sequestration and build soil health are all ways you can take a more regenerative approach to managing a vineyard. There are some fairly quick wins with implementing practises like cover crops and straw mulching, but for the most part they are part of a much longer term strategy. A strategy that builds up natural resilience in the vineyard to pest pressure, disease risks, and changing climate, while reducing the need for intervention with chemicals that disrupt nature from doing its thing!

Interesting in learning more about applying regenerative approaches in your vineyard? Read this case study about Johan Vineyards and/or get in touch with us.

Case study: Luke Spalding – Everflyht Vineyard

Case study: Luke Spalding – Everflyht Vineyard 2000 1333 Sectormentor

Join us for a walk around a beautiful spot in East Sussex, a 2.6-hectare vineyard run by data lover Luke Spalding. The vines are fairly new, they’ve been in the ground for 4 years and will be producing at full potential in the next year or two. Another 4.5 hectares of vines are due to be planted in May 2021, and the aim is to consistently produce 6-8 tonnes of grapes a hectare in the future. Currently the wine is made at Hambledon, where Luke has built a great working relationship with Felix the winemaker there, the first wines will be released 2021.

The vineyard is 74m above sea level and the site has its challenges; such as extreme south west winds and severe late spring frosts due to its proximity to the South Downs. Luke told us “This is why I wanted the job, if I can deal with these challenges and learn to produce a great crop then I know I am doing something right!”.

The field was previously used for grazing livestock and hay making, so the soil is rich in nitrogen but has an imbalance of magnesium and potassium. This is a blessing and a curse in the Pinot Meunier variety; as it saves on some fertilisers but creates other problems with necrosis on the berries and buds.

Luke spends a lot of time scouting in the vineyard for issues, making observations and recording them with his Sectormentor phone app. His passion for data started when he was at Ridgeview Wine Estate; he helped monitor links between the number of seeds in a berry, berry size and climatic values that increased berry size and development. In a Californian grape grown to maturity the average is three to four seeds per grape, but how many seeds do English grapes generally have? Luke decided to sample 250 berries across every block in the vineyard, counting seeds to calculate the average seed count per berry for each block, observing how well the fruit had matured. He found there are often only 2 seeds on average in an English grape, a sign the grapes do not fertilise as well as those across the pond. This is because we just don’t have enough sunny growing days over here!

Pre veraison Luke and his assistant Tom recorded bunch counts with the Sectormentor for Vines app to start making an early yield prediction and decide if they need to remove any bunches from the vines to optimise yield and grape quality. They checked the bunch count data displayed by block on their Sectormentor account and decided to take off quite a few bunches post flowering, which are left on the ground to return fertility to the soil.

Once grapes have been thinned out they will go through and count bunches again to understand how many were actually dropped and update their yield prediction. All this data can be put into the Sectormentor app so they can observe and understand trends in how their bunch counts are evolving and what their yield might be.

Post veraison, berries grow rapidly in size, generally due to Autumn sunshine causing sugar to build up in the grapes. Luke monitors berry weight to see the impact from different weather patterns and other variables. As it turns out, hot and sunny weather during the growing season is not necessarily what causes dramatic increases in berry size; it is actually a heavy rainfall event in the run up to harvest which makes a huge difference!

We got the low down from Luke: “If you have 10 bunches per vine and each one increases by 10g due to rain, each Ha has 4,132 vines and the site has 10ha that’s an extra 4,132kg. It all adds up!”

As Everflyht is a new vineyard, there are some younger vines which aren’t yielding yet. Luke monitors younger vines, along with dead and missing vines, so he can take them out of his yield prediction, ensuring it is accurate. Luke also keeps track of frost damage and wind scorch by recording incidences on Sectormentor, so he’s able to stay on top of the problems and make any necessary management changes. He sprays seaweed straight onto frost damaged buds within 24 hours – this does an amazing job helping them recover! He’s also trying a biodynamic treatment of silica to help with wind scorch. This improves cell walls and leaf thickness to make the vines more resilient to the prevailing wind, as well as powdery mildew.

“I use Sectormentor as a Barometer of how the vine has developed, how many buds have burst, how many shoots do I have, how many clusters do I have and what do we need to drop. That information tells me if I have a problem like necrosis, if I have to shoot thin or if I need do a green harvest.” – Luke Spalding, Everflyht Vineyard

By monitoring bud counts, shoot counts and cluster counts with Sectormentor for Vines, Luke gets a good idea for how the vines are doing and if there are any issues. For example, if he does a bud count and then a shoot count, and finds only 60% of the buds have shoots, he knows there is a problem with necrosis or blind buds and can make a decision on how to manage this in the future. 

Growing degree days for a season also provide helpful and informative data for Luke; from several years of monitoring he has found anything higher than -70 GDD in March means bud burst will happen in the first week of April. As Luke points out, “In a cooler climate where everything is so marginal this type of data is really important and can make a huge difference to successful vineyard management.”

We’re excited to continue following Luke’s journey; if you’d like to hear more about what he is up to read this blog post on trialling cover crops, mulching and biodiversity at Everflyht Vineyard.

Case Study: Dan Rinke & Ian Nelson – Johan Vineyards

Case Study: Dan Rinke & Ian Nelson – Johan Vineyards 4032 3024 Sectormentor

Acclaimed vintner, Dan Rinke, tells us how he uses the Vine Health Indicator to manage his 90 acre biodynamic vineyard:

“I know if my cane weights are lighter I need to apply heavier compost, or run animals in that part of the vineyard to get the biology and nutrition cycling better. Now I’m using Sectormentor it’s very quick to compare how they change year on year and it’s immediately visualised which makes it easy for me to make the best decisions for the long term health of the vines.”

Dan Rinke, Johan Vineyards, USA

Johan Vineyards is owned by Dag Johan Sundby, a Norwegian immigrant who headed to the Williamette Valley, Oregon, USA in 2004 to establish the 85 acre Johan estate vineyard. In 2007 Dan Rinke became vineyard manager there, and under Dan’s direction, within 3 years the vineyard became biodynamically certified. It is an exceptionally beautiful spot in the Van Duzer Corridor AVA – plentiful hot days and very cool nights thanks to the winds coming through the corridor from the coast.

Being a biodynamic vineyard they have 30 acres set aside as a biodiversity preserve, which includes majestic virgin oak savannah and biologically active riparian zones, plus beautiful lakes and ponds. The air is alive with birds and butterflies. As it says on Johan Vineyard’s website, “Steiner outlined a unified approach to agriculture that relates the ecology of the earth-organism to that of the entire cosmos. Much like Steiner, we see our vineyard as an individual organism that will eventually showcase its own identity through the fruit it develops.”

Dan is a hugely inspiring farmer, he has a clear understanding of the ‘why’ behind everything and is able to marry the somewhat esoteric recommendations of biodynamics and explain it as practical grounded insights. Ian Nelson, their budding new vineyard manager, has been working with Dan for the last 8 months and is now doing much of the viticultural management on a day-to-day basis. They are continually experimenting with different techniques and practices to build a more resilient and ecological vineyard, they showed us three of their current trials which we wanted to share far and wide!

1..At Johan they practice minimal soil disturbance to enable the fungal networks to prosper and retain as much carbon in the soils as well. This means all the rows have a healthy cover of grasses and herbal mixes, though they do still do undervine cultivation to keep weeds under control there. In order to experiment with cover crops between rows, they have planted different pollinator mixes. As Dan explains, “We did the flowering reseeding annual/perennial mix in the tasting room block to increase the diversity of cover crops used in the vineyard and to add more forage for native pollinators.”

2..They cut out old wood last winter from the surrounding hedgerows and have turned them into woodchip piles, located at different sites around the vineyard. The aim of the piles is to foster more fungal diversity in the vineyard – all based on the principle that greater diversity will keep any problematic fungi in check and not allow fungal disease to set it.

3..The third experiment is planting elderberry in place of dead vines in an area with particular difficulty. The elderberry is able to form both ecto and endo-mycorrhizal associations – Dan explains exactly why this is important, “We are interplanting with elderberry (we also plan to plant some shrubby native willows this fall) because they have associations with both Endomycorrhiza and Ectomycorrhizas. Endomycorrhiza is the type of mycorrhiza that grape vines have an association with, but Ectomycorrhizas are what have been proven to work like a network – sharing minerals, nutrients, water, carbon and plant hormones between different plant species. So the plants with dual species associations, such as elderberry and willows, are what I call “hub species”. Think of the airline maps with some major airports being the hubs. It’s nice to fly direct to your destination but sometimes you have to fly to a hub airport to get to the final destination, this is just more efficient for the airline companies. The same is true for sharing needed nutrients in an ecological system. The hub species make it possible to link the two networks together.”

One of the reasons Dan started using Sectormentor at Johan is because he is transitioning out of doing some of the day-to-day vineyard management as Ian takes it on and using Sectormentor makes things quicker and easier for both of them. Ian nips around the vineyard on his little quad bike using the map on the Sectormentor app to take him to the different sample sites or blocks he needs to visit that day (Ian is still learning the vineyard, so the map is super helpful as he zips from clone to clone!)

Johan is planted with a number of different varietal-clone combinations on small 1-2 acre plots. These management blocks are used to ensure that each part of the vineyard is well cared for and they know exactly what is going on. We have seen time and time again, that vineyards that focus on smaller management blocks are more successful in farming ecologically and profitably.

When it comes to yield predictions and management decisions, Johan have a strong focus on data to help them make informed management decisions. Ian is relatively new to the vineyard but thanks to Sectormentor he can easily see the variety, clone, rootstock of each location. Once Ian has gone out and done the % flowering, or cluster count etc at each site, that data is all immediately available on Sectormentor so Dan and Ian can check in back at the office and see how the different blocks are progressing, as well as update initial yield predictions and harvest dates. For Dan the biggest advantage of Sectormentor is that he can easily visualise changes year on year – such as visualising the changes in cane weights and number of short shoots in different blocks – he told us that in his experience that information is key to making the best management decisions.

In the early days of Johan a few plots of the vineyard were leased out — but they will finally come back into Johan management next year. Dan and Ian are very excited to have the final plot of vines coming back into management by Johan themselves. This plot has been managed chemically for years – Dan will immediately start transitioning it to a biodynamic plot but it inevitably takes some time as the soil must recover and become truly alive once again. The team are very keen to see and document how the soil does change through this transition, so Dan and Ian will use some of the key soil health tests – VESS, slake, invertebrate counts, infiltration rate to track how alive the soil is and how it evolves.

When we visited we were lucky enough to be taken on a tasting journey through all of their wines, with winemaker Morgan – my oh my, if you ever get the chance to try a Johan Wine you are in for a treat. All that hard work in the vineyard definitely pays off, the wines are beautiful, natural wines that reflect the beauty of the complex, increasingly diverse ecosystem from which they have sprung

We’re excited to keep learning about regenerative vineyard management with Johan Vineyards!

If Sectormentor for Vines sounds interesting to you do get in touch here.