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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!

Know your Vines #9: Record harvest weights and analyse yield performance with our Harvest Tool

Know your Vines #9: Record harvest weights and analyse yield performance with our Harvest Tool 4032 3024 Sectormentor

In our Know your Vines blog series we share practical tips on what metrics to monitor in your vineyard. This is the ninth instalment, stay tuned for more as the seasons unfold! “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.

I heard it through the grapevine, not much longer ‘til grapes turn to wine

As we enjoy the welcome Autumn sunshine the grapes are doing their last bit of ripening. Months of hard work in the vineyard and efforts to optimise yield and fruit quality culminate in this moment; harvest time! What will your yield be? Is it in line with your prediction? Monitoring the yield for each block will not only tell you how close your prediction is but also inform your pruning technique and how you care for the vines going into the next season.

How to monitor yield

The best way is to keep collection trays from different blocks separate when you’re harvesting, and weigh them separately, recording the total amount picked in each block each day in Sectormentor for Vines. This makes it possible to compare numbers for individual blocks, so you know how each one is doing, and can adopt relevant management actions.

Using the Harvest Tracker

The Harvest Tracker aims to be interesting both during and after harvest. During the harvest, as you record the amount picked per block each day you can see the total amount harvested and how that has progressed through the harvest season.

This gives you a simple overview of how the harvest team are getting on and how your yield is moving forward.

Looking at the amount picked for each block or variety lets you quickly see how much fruit was picked so far (during the harvest) or in total (after the harvest). This is useful both in real time as the harvest is coming in to understand how much has been picked and how much is left to pick in particular blocks, as well as after harvest to help understand the profitability of each block or variety.

The yield per hectare/acre lets you compare the productivity of each block and gives you an understanding of how each variety, rookstock and clone performed this year. You can quickly spot if there are any problem blocks and decide on actions to take for the next season.

Knowing your yield per unit area also allows you to benchmark yourself against other vineyards, and can often be a better indicator if it was a good or bad cropping year.

Once your harvest weights are recorded and harvest is all done you can sit back and reflect on it all. Which blocks performed well? How efficient was harvest this year? How many tonnes per hectare were picked? With the Harvest Tracker on Sectormentor for Vines you can answer all these questions.

Are you already using Sectormentor for Vines to monitor kilograms picked? Log into your account online to try our new Harvest Tool. You’ll find it in the ‘Tools’ section – let us know what you think!

Find out how Sectormentor for Vines helps you record data & manage your vines for the best quality grapes: get in touch here or check out 10 key metrics to monitor in your vineyard.

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.

Chalk House Vineyard

Know your Vines #8: See patterns in how your grapes are ripening & predict your harvest date earlier

Know your Vines #8: See patterns in how your grapes are ripening & predict your harvest date earlier 2000 1333 Sectormentor

In our Know your Vines blog series we share practical tips on what metrics to monitor in your vineyard. This is the eighth instalment, stay tuned for more as the seasons unfold! “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.

Monitor grape sugar and acidity to get the balance just right – all made easier with our Grape Ripeness Indicator Tool

As we get closer to harvest, life is getting sweeter for grapes! They are beginning to ripen, with sugars generally increasing whilst acidity is dropping. Many vineyards monitor sugar and acidity levels as harvest approaches to help to decide when to start picking. Of course, this is not purely a science, as we are looking to make delicious wine, so tasting the grapes is a key part of the equation. It’s the combination of the art of taste, and the science of sugar and acidity levels that helps ensure you have a smooth well-timed harvest for each block in the vineyard.

Vines at Rathfinny Vineyard

Monitoring sugar and acidity levels
Post veraison, vineyard managers & winemakers will regularly monitor the sugar and acidity levels of grapes across the vineyard. A refractometer is used to measure grape sugar, giving a Brix or Oechsle reading. Titratable acid, the total acid content in grape juice, is important for balancing a wine and is measured by neutralising the grape juice with an alkaline solution. It’s important to take a representative sample of grapes when measuring these and to use the same juice for both tests to get a real understanding of the sugar to acid ratio.

These are two of the ten key metrics to monitor in the vineyard. Sectormentor makes it quick and easy to record all this information & share it with the vineyard and winemaking team so they can see what is happening with the grapes.

Chalk House Vineyard

Veraison at Chalk House Vineyard

Using the Sectormentor Grape Ripeness Indicator Tool

When you record sugar and acidity readings using Sectormentor, we automatically plot them on a graph. This makes it easy to see how the ripening is progressing, as it’s not always linear. Weather events have a big impact on ripening and it is helpful to see this displayed graphically.

Davenport Vineyards sugar and acidity levels for different varieties in 2018

Every block with a different variety, clone and rootstock behaves differently, so with this data you may start to see patterns and relationships between blocks. In the graph above you can see how the sugar and acidity levels vary for each variety, and the difference in how quickly each one ripens. Will at Davenport Vineyards uses this information to plan when to harvest each variety, and the graph is easy to share with his team.

Davenport Vineyards comparison of sugar and acidity levels year on year for a single variety

By comparing ripeness data year on year for the same block it’s possible to identify patterns particular to each block. How long does ripening tend to take for this block? Is this year similar to 2016? Comparing to other similar years will also help you predict harvest dates based on the ripening trajectory.

Are you already using Sectormentor to monitor sugar and acidity? Log into your Sectormentor account online to try our updated Grape Ripeness Indicator. You’ll find it in the ‘Tools’ section – let us know what you think!

Find out how Sectormentor helps you record data & manage your vines for the best quality grapes: get in touch here or check out 10 key metrics to monitor in your vineyard.

Know your vines #7: How to optimise your yield prediction and the power of the Yield Predictor Tool – PART 2

Know your vines #7: How to optimise your yield prediction and the power of the Yield Predictor Tool – PART 2 5184 3456 Sectormentor

In our Know your Vines blog series we share practical tips on what metrics to monitor in your vineyard. This is the seventh instalment, stay tuned for more as the seasons unfold! “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.

Use bunch weights at lag phase and veraison to optimise yield prediction

In part 1 we looked at optimising your yield prediction by getting accurate bunch counts. As we move through the season there is more information available to us, allowing for our yield predictions to be optimised even further. Part 2 of yield optimisation starts with weighing actual bunches in lag phase, or at veraison, and then again at regular intervals in the run up to harvest. Last-minute losses due to disease can also be taken into account at this stage. Many thanks to Luke Spalding at Chalk House Vineyard for sharing his tips and tricks for getting a good yield prediction.

Third prediction: Weigh bunches at lag phase or veraison
For the next step of your yield prediction it is time to start weighing your bunches! This can be done at lag phase, or veraison. Weighing bunches at this stage you get a better idea of what the bunch weight will be for each varietal this year. Theoretically lag phase is about 55 days after 50% flowering*. In fact, this is one reason why recording 50% flowering is important – so you can identify when lag phase will happen.

*This is based on studies done with Pinot Noir in Oregon State. In more variable cool climates, like the UK, due to the stop-start growing season impacting both flowering and grape berry development stage II (lag phase), the number of days can vary much more (It’s important to always be observing!).

The lag phase prediction method is often thought to be the most accurate when done correctly, however as Chalk House vineyard manager Luke Spalding explained, “For many people the best time to start weighing bunches is veraison – it’s easy to see when that is, so you don’t have to worry about counting the number of days since 50% flowering for each varietal. The issue is that for some vineyards, waiting until veraison is too late, they need to be able to get a more accurate yield prediction as early as possible.”

Whether you choose to start measuring actual bunch weights at lag phase or veraison, the method is very similar. You need to go out and randomly select as many bunches as is reasonable from each block (Luke recommends 15-25 bunches per 1000 vines for smaller vineyards). We have seen a number of different methods used by different vineyard managers to select random bunches in a bay. Two options are:

  1. Select a mix of 1st, 2nd (and 3rd bunches if you have them)
  2. Select every other bunch in one random bay

Once you have selected your bunches from the block, you are now ready to weigh your bunches. You just need an average bunch weight, so if you know how many bunches you picked, then you can weigh them all together and divide the total weight by the number picked to get the average.

Use the bunch weight multiplier

Yield prediction calculation using bunch weights and multiplier

The rule of thumb is that in a ‘normal’ year, your bunches will increase in weight by a factor of 1.65-1.9. We call that number the weight multiplier.  The multiplier differs for lag phase and veraison.

At this point you start to really optimise your yield prediction to be much more accurate. This is the first time you have got a real idea of the bunch weights for this year. Go to the yield predictor tool, enter in the average bunch weights for each block, and adapt the multiplier to ~1.65 for veraison weights, or ~1.8 for lag phase weights. Of course getting the multiplier right is key, which is why it’s important to measure bunch weights at lag/veraison each year, and then again at harvest. This allows you to understand the weight multiplier for each of your varietals/clones. If you don’t have any previous data then using a weight multiplier of around 1.65 (veraison) or 1.8 (lag phase) initially is a good place to start.

Optimising yield prediction year on year
With the yield predictor tool you can now compare how this prediction compares to your previous prediction, and you can easily see the total predicted weight for the vineyard as well as the predicted yield for each block. In the previous prediction you were using average weights, now you are using actual weights from this year with a multiplier – does it look too high or too low? If things are looking exceedingly good this year, then maybe do another yield prediction with a weight multiplier of 2 – for example the harvest of 2019 in the UK people were seeing weight multipliers of 2 or more from veraison to harvest, but that was of course a very unusually prolific year. Also there can be considerable variation between different varietals when it comes to the weight multiplier, so if you do have past years data then it’s best to customise the weight multipliers for each block based on the history at your site.

Fourth prediction: Include last minute losses due to disease/pest pressures

Yield prediction calculation including potential loss from Botrytis

To see how things are progressing you can go out and weigh more bunches 4 weeks after veraison. How have the bunches developed? How much bigger will they get by harvest?

Of course there can be unforeseen issues with disease pressure in the final weeks. This is easily accounted for in the yield predictor by adding in what % of the crop you have lost due to the problem. This will update your yield prediction estimates in the final stages of your yield prediction journey.

Weigh bunches at harvest
It is key to measure the average bunch weight at harvest and enter that into Sectormentor too. You can either go and pick random bunches on the morning of harvesting a particular block, or you can harvest the sample bays from each block before harvesting the rest of each block (you have already counted the number of bunches for sample bays so you can easily work out the average bunch weight by weighing all the bunches that are harvested from that bay).

This number of average bunch weight at harvest is vital so that in future years you can figure out what the actual veraison-harvest weight multiplier is for each block in your vineyard. It also helps to get a very good idea of your average harvest bunch weight for a particular block over many years, so that those early predictions that rely on this weight become more and more accurate.

It’s an art and a science..
Yield estimation is a real art. The more in tune you are with your vineyard and the more you know your vines, the easier it will become – if you are consistently getting within 15% of the actual yield then that is considered good in cool climates. However, if you are very committed and refine the details, meticulously measuring bunch weights at lag/veraison and harvest each year, getting clear on your weight multipliers for each block, then many vineyard managers believe you should be able to get within 5% accuracy every time.

Check out 10 key metrics to monitor in your vineyard and find out how our app Sectormentor for Vines helps you record data & manage your vines for the best quality grapes

How alive is your soil? Assessing soil health at Bee Tree Vineyard with Vine-Works

How alive is your soil? Assessing soil health at Bee Tree Vineyard with Vine-Works 800 534 Sectormentor

We’re working with vineyards on exploring soil health monitoring and the value it can bring to the enterprise. Bee Tree Vineyard in West Sussex is owned and run by Vine-Works, who also provide a suite of management services from planting through to harvest for vineyards across the UK. They use their 1.5 hectare site of vines to trial new management approaches which they might then apply to vineyards they manage for their clients.

Healthy soil should be brimming with biological life and full of carbon sequestered by a diverse range of plants. Plants exude sugars into the soil through their roots during their vegetative growth, feeding micro-organisms in the soil, which can in turn unlock nutrients for plants to take up when they need them. Micro-organisms also secrete glues and slimes which hold the soil structure together, forming aggregates – the basis of healthy soil. This aggregated structure allows water and air to easily percolate around and through it, so the soil will be able to hold more water deep down in its profile for when plants really need it, as well as remain aerobic.

Synthetic and chemical inputs such as herbicides and nitrogen fertiliser, as well as turning the soil, can disrupt plant root-soil interactions and hence disrupt feeding the vital soil biology. Vine-Works have been investigating how to reduce reliance on inputs and manage soil biology positively at Bee Tree Vineyard. The Vine-Works team have replaced undervine herbicide usage with a mechanical undervine weeder which they have found very effective. They’re also trying a new type of chicken manure compost pellet made by ‘Cloud-Agro’ to further feed the life in the soil.

Improving soil biology by increasing plant and root diversity is one of the first steps on the journey to reducing inputs in a vineyard. Vine-Works have been trialling different mixes of cover crops with diverse root systems in the rows in between vines to improve soil biology. When we visited Bee Tree Vineyard we chose sample sites to assess soil health based on the different cover crops to see how these have affected soil structure and biology. Bee Tree are one of our first vineyards to start recording soil health observations using Sectormentor. These first tests form their ‘soil health baseline’ so they can understand where their soil is at now and where they want to go in the future.

By comparing between different rows that were next to each other but had been managed slightly differently we were already able to see some stark differences in how the soil was structured and stored water. One row where the cover crop sewed this Spring had never taken performed significantly worse than the neighbouring row with a cover crop that was well established from the year before. It has already enabled Vine-Works to change some of their management strategy, in that they will now plant their cover in Autumn to give it plenty of chance to establish and reduce the risk of bare soil!

We wanted to talk you through exactly what we did, the different tests and what they mean:

Our first sample site was a block of Cabernet Blanc with a deep rooting cover crop planted in between the rows, including radish, chicory and cocksfoot grass in the mix. These plant species are good at getting roots down into the soil, breaking it up, and bringing nutrients up from below. We saved the exact location of the sample site using GPS coordinates in the Sectormentor app. This means the team can go back to the same place in 6 months or a year and test again to see how things have changed.

First we dug out a spade’s width soil pit and visually assessed the soil structure (VESS test) for both under the vines and in the row. Under the vines the soil structure was quite blocky, but it did break down relatively easily in one hand. It was slightly better in the row under the cover crop, where the first inch of soil in the rooting area was nicely aggregated, but the clay got harder and blockier as we moved down the profile.

Next we did a Slake test, submerging 1p sized bits of the soil in a sieve in water and observing how quickly it broke down. The soil under the cover crops did well in the slake test, only losing around 20% of its structure. If the soil is alive with micro-organisms the structure will be held together with glues and slimes they secrete, and so it will not break down so much in water. If the soil is held together by compaction, it will break down easily. This test gives you an idea for biological life in the soil and how much soil could be running off your vineyard in heavy rain.

Finally we did Infiltration Rate test by knocking a 150mm tube into the ground and pouring in an inch of water. This gives an idea for how easily water can percolate into the ground and be stored there, instead of running off and into water courses. The infiltration rate was very slow under the vines, suggesting water can easily run off from this area. However it infiltrated faster into the cover crop, which is good news as it  suggests rain water will be better stored in the soil for drier periods when the plants need it. The Vine-Works team used Sectormentor to record all these results so they can start to compare them with other sample sites across the vineyard.

Next we headed next to a block of Pinot Noir with a different cover crop in between the vines, a mix including clover and trefoil. Clover is a legume and has the capacity to fix nitrogen in the soil on nodules on its roots. Here we found the cover crop had not established as well as the deeper rooting cover we previously tested.

There was much more bare soil in the row, which means there are no living roots feeding the soil in these places and the soil is more at risk of running off with heavy rain. The Vine-Works team recorded the % of bare soil, broadleaves, grasses and undesirables in the Sectormentor app, so they can assess how well they are improving plant diversity. We dug out a soil block and instantly noticed how much drier and blockier it was than the soil at the first sample site. It was harder to break down with one hand, breaking up into angular blocks. So, it didn’t score as well on the VESS test as the first site!

Now onto the slake test, placing 1p pieces of soil into water; due to the high clay content in the soil it held together relatively well, but still broke down more than the first sample site, losing more than 30% of its structure, showing that there is less biological life in this soil.

We really struggled to get the infiltration rate tube into the ground, showing compaction issues, which were corroborated by the very slow infiltration rate both in the row and under the vines. The Vine-Works team recorded all the soil test results and the GPS location of the pinot noir sample in Sectormentor; in the future they will be able to see the sample site on the map and get back to it easily to test again and see if things have improved.

At the second sample site the lack of establishment of the cover crop had clearly affected the soil health in that part of the vineyard, whereas at the first sample site the soil biology had started to get going. It was exciting to see so clearly how the different cover crops had affected soil health, allowing the Vine-Works team to understand what’s happening below ground and make decisions on how to move forward with improving soil health. The team went onto sample another site in the Pinot Noir block which had the deep rooting cover crop and did an ‘under the hedge’ test to get an idea for how good the soil could be. For an ‘under the hedge’ test you find a completely undisturbed spot of soil, by a hedge or in a woodland, which has not had any intervention. This will give you an idea for what the soil biology and structure could be like!

“I found the soil health tests very interesting, it’s changing how I think about vineyard management.” – Matt, Vine-Works

So, what’s next on the soil health journey for Vine-Works & Bee Tree? Soil monitoring regularly will help them understand the impact of different vineyard management techniques on their soil health. After varying success at establishing cover crops this season they plan to sow their cover crops this year just after harvest (Oct/Nov) rather than in Spring. From the VESS, infiltration rate and slake tests they could easily see just how negative the impact of bare soil from a poorly established cover crop can be, so by sewing in Autumn it will guarantee plenty of water to get the cover crop established. It was also clear that undervine cultivation was greatly slowing the infiltration time under the vines, so they are much more likely to get serious run off and leaching of nutrients from this soil. They have plans to try alpine plants under the vines next season, which will provide perennial cover and living roots in the soil all year round. These are hardy plants which do not need reseeding, so it’s an exciting trial!

In the autumn the team will be heading out to do earthworm counts, as it was too dry to do them when we visited this time. Earthworms are one of the best indicators of biological life in the soil, as if they are plentiful and present and active, many of the microorganisms will be too.

Find out how Sectormentor helps you monitor soil health in your vineyard & learn how your soil is changing. Contact us if you have questions!

Case Study: Darcy Gander – Vine-Works

Case Study: Darcy Gander – Vine-Works 1000 667 Sectormentor

Vine-Works was founded by James Dodson and Darcy Gander and has been establishing, managing, maintaining and supporting vineyards across the UK for over a decade. They work with single growers, small businesses, farmers, landowners and some of the country’s largest wine producers, providing a complete range of vineyard management and technical services from concept to harvest.

Vine-Works has just started to offer a vineyard management service for small to medium scale vineyards who can’t reasonably have a full time vineyard manager. As part of the service a Vine-Works technical officer will come out to the vineyard 12-16 times a year to ensure that the vineyard is well managed and an experienced independent viticulturist is monitoring important vineyard indicators. They help with deciding how much fruit to drop, what to do for disease management and getting good yield predictions – all the key activities throughout the year.

Of course this type of vineyard monitoring and management takes time but it is extremely valuable information! Many people don’t realise just how important it is to ensure that you do a good quality bunch count, and record bunch weights at harvest in order to get a good yield prediction – this data is invaluable, an asset to the vineyard.

The Vine-Works team are using Sectormentor so that they can easily record the information they need in each season to better manage vineyards for their clients. For example, just as flowering sets in, Technical Officer – Matt – will go out to a number of random sample vines in each block and count the number of inflorescences on the vine, he enters that number for one vine and then the next, and so on. Some weeks later he goes out again and counts the number of bunches, giving a good indication of fruit set – and starting one of the most important metrics of the year – the yield prediction. This information automatically feeds into the Sectormentor Yield Predictor Tool so that a rough initial yield prediction can easily be reached, and then optimised as the season progresses.

“All viticulturalists and vineyard managers collect data in their day to day activities, this data could be perceived as the vine’s method of communicating with us, be it pruning weights to illustrate cropping potential or interveinal discolouring to show nutrient deficiency. By collecting this information we can have a greater insight into a vine’s health.

Historically, vineyard managers have recorded this type of information in notebooks but by collecting data digitally we can quickly turn measurements into viticultural information. This can further be translated into quick and easy-to-read graphics so we can provide an instant response-based vineyard management service.”

Darcy Gander, Vine-Works

Sectormentor also allows for easy data sharing amongst the Vine-Works team, so they can make full use of all of their expertise. For example, Matt sees a leaf that looks a bit unusual in the vineyard, he takes a photo in Sectormentor, records its location, and carries on with his scouting looking for disease and pest pressure around the vineyard. He can send a message to the rest of the team so they can immediately and easily look at the photo of the issue on the Sectormentor dashboard and give their feedback on what they think it might be. Sectormentor is also hugely beneficial to the vineyard owners, because they can login to the dashboard at any time and see what has been happening on the vineyard – plus they know that all the vital information such as phenological dates, bunch weights and much more are stored and accessible in one place. This kind of information is an important asset to the vineyard, and storing it in this way brings the power of the data to the vineyard owner as well as the manager.

Working with Abby, Inti and the team has always been a pleasure. They’re driven, insightful and reliable and we look to working with them long term. Sectormentor has enabled us to cover more ground, analyse data quickly and make informed management decisions immediately. We have been impressed by how much time we save using Sectormentor and how it efficiently and effectively helps us to deliver our vineyard management service.

– Joel Jorgensen, Vine-Works

We are excited to be working with the Vine-Works team to introduce some of our recommended soil health monitoring into the service as well. Due to the damp conditions in the UK managing vines more ecologically can be quite tricky – but focusing on building soil structure through increased biological activity in the soil can really help to guide you in creating a more ecological and diverse vineyard system. Vine-Works aims to introduce this soil health monitoring to the vineyards who want to focus on more ecological farming methods.

We look forward to continuing our journey with Vine-Works! If their service or Sectormentor for Vines sounds interesting to you do get in touch here.

Know your vines #6: Optimise your yield prediction and the power of our Yield Predictor Tool – PART 1

Know your vines #6: Optimise your yield prediction and the power of our Yield Predictor Tool – PART 1 3024 4032 Sectormentor

In our Know your Vines blog series we share practical tips on what metrics to monitor in your vineyard. This is the sixth instalment, stay tuned for more as the seasons unfold! “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.

Use flower and bunch counts to optimise yield prediction

July is the perfect time for many vineyard owners to do bunch counts, as the grapes are forming. An accurate bunch count gets you about half way there to optimising your yield prediction. Getting your yield prediction as accurate as possible is important for small and medium scale commercial vineyards – it’s a great help for the winemakers to know in advance how much they will have of each type of grape, and how much tank space is likely to be taken up. If you get really good at optimising your yield prediction you can consistently get your prediction accurate to within 5% of your actual yield. It’s well worth it!

Luke Spalding, vineyard manager at Everflyht Vineyard, 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. Importantly, 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!”.

We’ve come to realise that each year, yield prediction is a journey, a step by step process of optimisation, learning and understanding. With our new Yield Predictor tool it is possible to save and update yield predictions throughout the season as you gather information on your vines. In this part 1 of our yield prediction blogs we will share how to hone your prediction by getting the bunch counts right, and in part 2 we will talk about getting your bunch weights as accurate as possible from lag phase (or veraison) onwards.

Yield predictions for different blocks of vines as they progress through the season

First prediction: Inflorescence counts
You may have already started out with a ballpark figure for this year’s yield using inflorescence counts combined with the average weight for each variety-clone block from previous years. This is really easy to do in the Sectormentor Yield Predictor – you just go out and count inflorescences at a number of sample vines out in the vineyard – entering the counts in the app quickly and easily as you go. Then when you log into your account online the Yield Predictor will automatically show you the average inflorescences for each block and the total predicted yield for each block. At this stage you’re working with a fairly crude estimate, but it gets you going!

Sectormentor Yield Predictor tool using flower counts

Second prediction: Bunch counts at flower set
Next, once flower set is complete you can go out and count your bunches, allowing you to see if you have any issues with fruit set (as we talked about here). At this point you can also do your second yield prediction (easy to do in the Sectormentor Yield Predictor) now based on bunch counts — you’re getting closer, and your yield prediction can help you to make a decision on how much you want to thin your grapes (or green harvest).

Thinning the crop is a decision based on craft – you want to optimise yield while ensuring that your not putting strain on the vines. We realise that this is a bit of a balancing act – and this post covers some of the concerns. If you do decide to thin the fruit at this point, you’ll need to go out and do another bunch count afterwards to ensure you know how many bunches you still have. This may feel over the top, but unless you’ve thinned all the vines yourself, it is unreliable to assume exactly the number of bunches you wanted to remove, have actually been removed. The bunch count is the easiest thing to get right, so it’s worth making sure it’s as accurate as possible.

Fine tune your prediction with an updated bunch count after thinning
Every time you do a new bunch count you can do a new yield prediction using the Yield Predictor tool. The tool will automatically update the averages for each new count, as well as remember the bunch weights you entered last time – so it’s really quick to update your prediction and make any minor tweaks! You can also compare your current prediction to predictions you made earlier in the season, to see how the grapes are progressing, and we have a handy graph to show how the total estimated yield has changed, as well as the yield for each individual block.

Everything so far has been about ensuring we get the average number of bunches as accurate as possible. All the estimates have been based on using average bunch weights from previous years – in part 2 of this post we will look at the next steps on the yield estimate journey – getting your estimated bunch weight as accurate as possible for this season. This process starts at the lag phase (just before veraison).

Check out 10 key metrics to monitor in your vineyard and find out how our app Sectormentor for Vines helps you record data & manage your vines for the best quality grapes.

Know your vines #5: The value of understanding fruit set

Know your vines #5: The value of understanding fruit set 2000 1333 Sectormentor

In our Know your Vines blog series we will share practical tips on which metrics to monitor in your vineyard. This is the fifth instalment, stay tuned for more as the coming seasons unfold!

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”

The value of knowing % Fruit Set

After the buds have burst, flowering is over (or almost over)…the caps are off and the grapes are beginning to form – we are well and truly into another season and the countdown to harvest has begun, yet again! In this post, we wanted to tell you a bit about % fruit set and why this a useful metric. If you did an inflorescence count prior to flowering then it’s very easy to determine what % of your inflorescences have “set” fruit.

Photo: Vines just finished flowering – fruit set just starting…


Fruit set is vital in the phenological progression of the vine, as it is the moment that the fruit actually comes into being -it’s the first indicator of how abundant (or not) the harvest might be. Knowing the % fruit set helps you to know if the vine is out of balance or if something went wrong at this point and you need to do things differently in future years.

Of course, a key factor that affects fruit set is outside of our control – the weather! High winds and heavy rain (or worse, frost), can really damage flowers’ ability to turn into fruit. But poor management decisions, as well as reduced vine health, can also impact fruit set – so this is an indicator to learn how to learn from!

“We monitor fruit set to make sure we are managing the vineyard as effectively as possible. You have to be very careful during flowering, especially with any sprays, it can be very delicate and you can cause poor fruit set. So we always check % fruit set to learn and improve our management in following years.” – Joel Jorgensen

Poor fruit set in vines can be due to carbohydrate supply, water supply and mineral imbalance. Here is a nice description of how and why from a US vineyard outreach officer:

‘Deficiencies of any of the essential mineral nutrients (e.g Zinc, Boron) can affect fruit set detrimentally.  Unbalanced C:N status of the vine can also result in poor flower development and fruit set. Overly vigorous (lower C:N ratio) or weak vines (higher C:N ratio) with insufficient or in-efficient leaf area (e.g. due to herbicide damage, insect feeding, disease attack)  tend to have reduced fruit set and loose clusters.’ (Reference)

Different varieties can also be more or less likely to set all their fruit, so starting to understand different varietal and block behaviours with fruit set helps to build up a picture of those vines over time and optimise vineyard management based on the expected fruit set. This also means you can pay special attention to any areas of the vineyard that are particularly susceptible at flowering:

“Flower set is dependent on the weather but some varieties are more prone to poor fruit set in certain conditions. When we count inflorescences, we assume 100% fruit set. In August when we count bunches post flowering we then update the yield prediction. And also determine the % fruit set so we can manage the blocks accordingly going foward.” – Will Davenport, Davenport Vineyards.

How to calculate fruit set?

Go out and do an inflorescence count as the flowers come into bloom. Then sometime after flowering is all finished, and the caps have blown off, go out and count the number of bunches. ‘No. of bunches’ divided by the ‘No. of inflorescences’ will give you the % fruit set. Using Sectormentor makes this easy:

Monitoring with Sectormentor:
Sectormentor makes it easy to record flower / inflorescence counts and bunch counts at the touch of a button on your phone out in the vineyard. All the information you record is then available as soon as you get back to the office. You can easily see the % fruit set for each block, and this is recorded year on year, so you can start to build up a picture of each block and how the fruit sets for that specific clone, variety, location. This is about really knowing your vines!


Check out 10 key metrics to monitor in your vineyard and find out how our app Sectormentor helps you record data & manage your vines to build ecology, profitability and beauty for your vineyard.


Know your vines #4: How to measure pruning weights

Know your vines #4: How to measure pruning weights 543 407 Sectormentor

In our Know your Vines blog series we will share practical tips on what metrics to monitor in your vineyard. This is the fourth instalment, stay tuned for more as the coming seasons unfold!

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.

Mid winter pruning weights video with Matt Strugnell, Ridgeview Wine

The onset of chilly winter conditions can only mean one thing in a vineyard, it’s time to prune back the vines. It marks the end of one growing season before the onset of the next.

What can we learn from the remaining canes? Unfortunately vines can’t talk, but their pruning weights can tell you a lot about vine health and vigour. You can use this information to understand how your vines are performing and inform decisions for the season ahead.

We spent the day with Matt Strugnell who has managed Ridgeview Wine Estate for 20 years and pruned a fair few vines in his time! Monitoring pruning weights is integral to his management strategy.

Matt showed us how he has perfected the art of getting pruning weights, starting with how to tame vine branches into neat bundles so it’s easy to record their weight as well

as simple timesaving tricks like using a loop of string, rather than tying up the bundle each time.

Now he records all his pruning weights in Sectormentor whilst he is out in the vines, no more typing things up when he’s back home and navigating multiple spreadsheets to figure out what it all means. With Sectormentor that’s all done automatically, so by the time he’s back in the office he can look on the vine health indicator to see the average pruning weights for each block compared to previous years, as well as cane weight and the crop load. Watch the video below of Matt demonstrating how to measure the pruning weight for one bay of vines.


Scales (Matt uses Berkley fish scales)
String (Loop ends to easily attach to scales)
Warm clothes! 🙂

Monitoring with Sectormentor:
Sectormentor makes it easy to record pruning weights at the touch of a button on your smartphone out in the vineyard. All the information you record is available as soon as you get back to the office. Using our Vine Health Indicator Tool you can see trends in pruning weights, cane weight and crop load (Ravaz Index) for each block providing an early indication of areas that need extra attention or a change in management. Recording pruning weights provides invaluable insights into the long term health of your vines. Many people don’t record them because it is too much effort, but we have made it into a simple 2 step process:
Measure the pruning weights, record in the Sectormentor app

Look at the graphs of the results on Sectormentor dashboard when you are back at the computer, decide on management approaches accordingly.

Check out 10 key metrics to monitor in your vineyard and find out how our app Sectormentor for Vines helps you record data & manage your vines for the best quality grapes.