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Regenerative Viticulture Insights: Discovering the power of native insectary plants with Mary Retallack

Regenerative Viticulture Insights: Discovering the power of native insectary plants with Mary Retallack 1079 721 Sectormentor


Regenerative Viticulture Insights: Discovering the power of native insectary plants with Mary Retallack

We recently shared three amazing discussions from our second edition of the Regenerative Viticulture Series.

To celebrate our learnings, we’re releasing a roundup of each of the sessions and some of our favourite insights from them. In our previous instalments we pulled together some highlights from our conversations with Mimi Casteel and Sergio Nicolau.

Our last conversation was with the brilliant Mary Retallack, third generation viticulturist and agro-ecologist based in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia, with a particular interest in native insectary plants and their potential in biocontrol.

After studying ecology at school Mary returned to viticulture, managing her first vineyard in 2003 where she combined her knowledge in ecology and wine growing, using native insectary plants to manage pest and disease within the vineyard. At the time this idea was perceived as quite radical, and not promoted in conventional viticulture. 

To prove the benefits of these species and encourage their use within the industry Mary decided to embark on a PHD in viticulture and plant protection. After finishing her PHD in 2019 Mary worked to share this knowledge with other viticulturalists, using funding to develop the EcoVineyards programme in conjunction with the Wine Grape Council of South Australia. This programme has since gone national, funded by Wine Australia

Today, Mary runs her own small vineyard & consultancy Retallack Viticulture Pty Ltd, spending most of her time on the road providing advice to wine growers, alongside running events and writing educational materials for the EcoVineyards programme.


               Mary discussing soil health at the Great Aussie EcoVineyards Earthworm Count event

Mary explains what a native insectary plant is, how to encourage their growth within vineyards

A native insectary plant is a plant that is native to a certain region or historical plant community that provides Shelter, Nectar (food), Alternative prey and Pollen to local wildlife (encapsulated in the acronym SNAP!). These plants assist in biocontrol as they provide habitat and food for predators including arthropods, micro bats and insectivorous birds. 

Mary explains that the aim is to plant a range of species that provide habitat to a diversity of insects throughout the year. When looking at flowering insectary plants we want to grow species with a diversity of flower shapes, which have overlapping flowering periods at key times in the growing season. This is especially important during the grape flowering period to keep the inflorescences clean of pests, preventing an outbreak which could affect yields later on in the season.

In vineyards we are specifically looking at the use of ground cover and shrubs as these will work best within the wider ecosystem. Choosing species that are able to outcompete weeds, while possessing low potential to become a weed, have low establishment and maintenance costs, and low potential to host pest species.

When deciding what species to grow it is useful to look at the quality of the resources that the plants provide, in terms of nectar or pollen. Nectar is essential to provide food & energy, whereas, pollen is needed as it’s this which determines how many eggs these insects can produce, and how healthy they are. 

Mary states that diversity is key here and encourages a move away from monoculture, which she describes as a “fragile” and “poorly buffered” system in which “problem weeds and pests often dominate”, towards a polyculture system that promotes functional biodiversity, soil health, has better resilience, and is able to self regulate producing – a crop without continual intervention.


Stand of native grasses and forbs (including wallaby grass) and insectary shrubs at EcoGrower Clare Valley Vineyard

Mary goes on to explain some amazing findings from her own research

During her studies, Mary found that the capacity for biocontrol of insect pests increased more than 3x when native evergreen shrubs are planted in the vicinity of grapevines. In her experiments, Mary found that when planted concurrently shrubs like sweet bursaria (blackthorn), and prickly tea tree provide habitat for at least 65 species of predatory arthropods, including parasitic wasps, which provide biocontrol of grapevine scale and mealybugs, like light brown apple moth. 

She also studied a species called kneed wallaby grass, which is a native perennial that can be planted in the mid row or under vine and provides habitat and breeding sites for brown lacewing larvae, wolf spiders, and a range of predatory ground beetles. 

In a field trial Mary found a net increase of predator richness of around 27% when wallaby grasses were planted in combination with grapevines, including at least 37 different species of arthropods, and 100 other unidentified insect species – demonstrating the amazing richness of wildlife diversity we can get at ground level through the use of these plants!

We then moved on to discuss how Mary combined her thirty years of practical experience and scientific knowledge to create the amazing EcoVineyards programme

EcoVineyards is a national programme which aims to increase the land area dedicated to functional biodiversity in and around Australian vineyards. The programme combines academic peer-reviewed research, and evidence-based learning, working with over 45 vineyards across Australia, that act as demonstration sites to trial and showcase new management practices. These sites focus on three main areas of management: soil health, ground covers, and functional biodiversity

Mary and the team at EcoVineyards share new knowledge learnt on these sites through the EcoVineyards website, a knowledge hub which provides resources on how to implement these practices, including: a native plant species list for different regions; soil health indicators for Australian vineyards, and a wide range of EcoGrower case studies.

They also host events and are working on creating best practice management guides for all three focus areas, providing complimentary support to EcoGrowers from regional on ground coordinators. 

“We embrace all growers however they are currently growing and provide an ecological focus – we want to remove any barriers to uptake and accelerate practice change, working closely with growers to empower them to find these answers for themselves.”


            Ladybirds on western new holland daisies from native seedbank at Watervale Vineyard

Delving into the three pillars: soil health, ground cover and functional biodiversity

The EcoVineyards programme promotes the use of ground covers instead of cover crops, encouraging a move away from the idea of annual intervention and soil disturbance towards more perennial cropping. Once this is established they move on to encouraging more diversity through cropping multispecies mixes, then working to encourage the growth of species that are naturally adapted to the site.

“What we’re always looking for is to cover bare soil meaning 100% functional groundcover and active roots 100% of the time where possible. We know that the plants that we select to plant above ground will have an impact on microbes below ground, it’s all interconnected – the lovely thing about nature and ecology is every species has a place and they’re all really important!”

Mary states that the more diversity you have, the more benefits you will get in association; going on to outline some examples from the exciting research looking at the best species to plant in the under vine area, and how this affects soil health. One of these studies found that wallaby grasses and leguminous mixes with annual grasses grow well alongside grapevines, and were able to more than double the amount of soil microbial activity and sequester more carbon than systems using traditional herbicide practices. 

“Nature will always work to fill a void, so we would like to fill it with something functional that will work well for us.”

It is really exciting to see new knowledge being developed around these native species and that EcoVineyards is helping to establish and share this knowledge!

To learn more about under vine planting in action visit the case studies page on the EcoVineyards website and hear from a wide range of EcoGrowers.


Twiggy daisy bush (left) and New Holland daisy planted in under vine area (middle) in Morella Vineyard – see case study here. Hydroseeding seed and liquid mulch in under vine area (right) at Grindstone vineyard – see case study here.

A small note on sulphur use…

Mary believes there’re a lot of misconceptions in conventional viticulture including the unintended consequences of using sulphur as a fungicide. The overuse of sulphur can knock out predators like parasitic wasps and predatory mites that could provide biocontrol, while also reducing mycorrhizal fungi and earthworm populations in the soil. Mary instead suggests that during signs of a disease outbreak growers should first look towards biocontrol as a solution and use chemicals as a last resort. 

She suggests that we should be looking to instead increase the health of our vines naturally to decrease their susceptibility to pest and disease outbreaks (referred to as the trophobiosis theory). Mary explains that when our vines have a brix of 12% or more, it means that they are healthy and will more able to overcome pest pressures as “a pest starves on a healthy plant”. If growers are using sulphur Mary advises keeping applications below 400g per 100L to reduce its negative effects on wildlife populations, and the soil.

Many of these practices really challenge conventional beliefs in viticulture so we asked Mary how she works to change practitioners’ mindsets

“We can’t use the same thinking to fix some of the mistakes we’ve made in the past – we need a new way of thinking. Some practices just aren’t working for us anymore – we need to embrace ecologists in production landscapes.”

“I say to growers that are worried about changing practices and are already producing really good quality fruit – imagen how much better it could be! It’s not necessarily going to be a negative, maybe we can take it to a whole new level.”

Mary believes that the economic benefits that native insectary plants and wider biodiversity provide can also help to convince practitioners and create wider industry change. We know that establishing inter-row vegetation and minimising bare earth will support mycorrhizal fungi which can in turn “provide up to 90% of plants nitrogen and phosphorus requirements”, reducing the need for artificial inputs. 

“Setting ourselves up for these longer term benefits, means we are not intervening as often, saving both time and resources.”

Ecovineyard’s also publish all of the financial costings of each project in the EcoGrowers case studies so that readers can see first hand how these practices can improve profitability. See the case study on Dan Falkenburg who was able to reduce his input costs and weed burden, and improve soil health and biodiversity, while saving 615$ a year by switching over from an annual cover crop to a  four species blend of self-regenerating wallaby grass.

“I think we are at the most exciting time to grow wine grapes certainly in my career. We’re challenging some of those established practices and looking for new solutions and I find that really exciting.”

We loved connecting with Mary and learning how she is applying an ecological approach to viticulture! Whether or not you are farming in an Australian environment, Mary’s philosophy and research can help us understand the experiments that are going on, so that we can learn from them and apply them in our own locations.

All the images in this blog were taken from the EcoVineyards website & Instagram account and Mary’s social media – follow them @ecovineyards & @retallackviti to learn more!

Case Study: learning from vineyard monitoring at Gusbourne

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

Case study: vineyard monitoring at Gusbourne

Sectormentor saves time, improves accuracy & supports regenerative practice

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

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

Screenshot from Gusbourne’s biodiversity tool showing recent butterfly sightings

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

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

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

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


Immediate Yield Prediction from the field

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As a team of advisors and contract vineyard managers at Vinescapes, we are grateful to have a unique birds-eye-view of the UK vineyard sector and we’re certainly noticing some trends, myths and interesting observations. 

One such observation was the positive impact that a healthy soil (and I mean truly healthy, not just chemically balanced and well drained) can have on the vines, especially with regards to their health, yields, required inputs and resilience. 

To highlight an example, we have two sites with similar terroir, that have historically been managed in very different ways, partly due to their setup and partly just management preferences. Both sites are South facing, well drained on medium textured sandy clay loam soils with good shelter from prevailing winds, sufficient air flow and very little shading. 

Site A was established many years ago on Geneva Double Curtain (GDC) trellising, which was popular at the time, while site B is Guyot pruned on VSP (Vine Trellis System). This is where the management differences (all human intervention rather than natural) start. 

The ‘T’ shaped trellising of GDC in site A has guaranteed no tractor traffic on the vines’ rootzone for many years, and it has suffered no compaction at all. Therefore, no subsoiling or inter-row cultivation was needed. No cover crops were planted but the naturally diverse flora population has been left to seed regularly over the years. During early season, the naturally taller vines don’t suffer from lack of airflow, despite a taller ground cover. Very few herbicides were used in site A; it was felt that the more vigorous GDC vines could handle some competition, and the taller trunks made it easier to strim or mow under-vine. I’m told spraying was limited to ‘essential only’, where the owners monitored the weather closely and only sprayed when disease was highly likely to appear or already present. 

By contrast, site B has been kept incredibly tidy and immaculate since planting. For the first two years, all competition was cultivated away so nothing could compete with the vines. Vine establishment was quick and strong and root penetration went deep. By year 3, a beautiful ‘golf course’ grass was managed between the rows with a very straight weed-free strip under-vine using a combination of herbicides and mechanical control. The spray program here has always been the prudent option of belt and braces with a minimum of 12 fungicide and nutrition sprays per season.

To recap:

Site A:

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

Site B: 

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

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

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

 

Site A

Site B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Site A – higher average earthworm counts per block

Site B – lower average earthworm counts per block

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

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

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

Diverse natural flora at site A

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

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

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

Optimising your yield prediction – getting the bunch weights right!

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

Optimising your yield prediction – getting the bunch weights right!

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

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

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

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

Counting bunches at Everflyht Vineyard with Luke Spalding

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

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

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

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

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

Estimation Ranges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historical bunch weights reporting

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

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

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

Example shot of the Historical Bunch Weights Report 🍇

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Regenerative Viticulture Series #3 with Dan Rinke

Regenerative Viticulture Series #3 with Dan Rinke 575 575 Sectormentor

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

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

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

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

References from Dan & Luke’s talk

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Regenerative Viticulture Series #2 with RegenBen

Regenerative Viticulture Series #2 with RegenBen 800 800 Sectormentor

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

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

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

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Regenerative Viticulture Series #1 with Nicole Masters

Regenerative Viticulture Series #1 with Nicole Masters 1320 878 Sectormentor

Regenerative Viticulture Series #1
Building Soil Health in your Vineyard with Nicole Masters

Nicole Masters is an internationally renowned agroecologist. Her book For the Love of Soil is exceptional, filled with good stories and very practical tools for taking a more regenerative approach. Nicole has also produced an online learning course, Soil Health Foundations, which is an excellent overview of understanding and building soil health for your situation. Nicole is director of Integrity Soils – a team of regenerative coaches who work with individual producers as well as delivering training for different organisations and advisors on building healthy soils and regenerative systems. 

This conversation with Nicole focuses on soil health as the root to a healthy vineyard. In particular we discuss the best ways to deal with compaction, how Nicole approaches disease and pest burdens, learning from weeds, and the power of doing simple tests in field to better understand what is happening. Nicole shares a hugely inspiring case study of a vineyard she worked with where a ‘soils first’ approach built profits, encouraged thriving soil life and built biodiversity above ground (find the link to this case study below the video). She shares some specifics in dealing with fungal disease, trialling alternative inputs, and using sap meters to guage the health of your plants – well worth a watch!

Nicole already uses our Soilmentor app to support her team when they are out surveying the situation at different producers they work with. We have included the Soilmentor functionality within Sectormentor to provide a comprehensive regenerative viticulture tool. We are working together with Nicole and her team at Integrity Soils to develop a new addition to this, the Regen Platform, which will help you understand what the different soil and plant test results mean and next questions or ideas you might want to explore.


Click below to watch Nicole’s session | Regenerative Viticulture Series

References from Nicole’s session

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English Wine Week: Vineyards working for beauty, ecology and profitability

English Wine Week: Vineyards working for beauty, ecology and profitability 560 397 Sectormentor

For English Wine Week we want to highlight an important part of the growing English wine movement – the vineyards who are striving for a system which works with and for nature, not against it, without comprising the bottom line.

These vineyards are stripping back at every stage of the winemaking process: from growing the grapes in the vineyard more ecologically, to bottling the delicious product in the cellar using methods that were first employed around 6000 years ago, when the human race fell in love with wine. This takes lots of different forms, whether they are organic, biodynamic, ecologically produced, or a combination of the three. Here is a low-down from a few of the vineyards we work with to learn what they are doing to work with nature out in the vines.

(If you like your wine with minimal pesticides, chemicals, or preservatives added these are some of the vineyards you should be following.)

 

1.Davenport Vineyards

Photo: Davenport Vineyard Manager Phil Harris with pickers being driven back to the Cellar to process grapes.

“We believe the route to making the best wines is to work with nature and this begins with organic grapes. The fruit is a true expression of the grape variety and the soil it grows in.”

Will Davenport, Davenport Vineyards, Horsmonden, Kent

In 2000, Will Davenport made the decision to convert his vineyards to a Soil Association certified organic management system. Making this conversion can risk a loss of production in the short term, and many said it can’t really be done in soggy England, but it was a risk Will was willing to take in the name of an ecological system. It paid off, all the vines flourished, bringing beautiful grape quality and a depth of flavour which would be hard to achieve with the chemical inputs of a non-organic system.

The weeds are mown or removed by hand, the soil is fertilised with animal manure or plant waste compost and the vines are fed with homemade comfrey and nettle liquid. Most of the energy used on site is provided from solar panels, and they consider the footprint of all winemaking processes, from growing organic grapes, to recycled packaging, to local distribution. All their wines are organic and most are made in the winery with very little intervention, using a natural process. Davenport is one of the few natural winemakers in the UK: Natural wines have little to no sulphates and fining agents added to them when they are made and make use of the natural yeasts on the grapes, rather than adding in commercial yeasts.

One to try this week: Diamond Fields Pinot Noir 2016

 

2. Bride Valley Vineyard

“In the future I hope to see better weather and increased yields without losing quality. Being financially and environmentally sustainable is the goal for everyone in my opinion.” 

Graham Fisher, Bride Valley Vineyard, Litton Cheney, Dorset

Bride Valley vineyard produce three varieties of english sparkling, from 10 hectares of vines. There first harvest was in 2014, with bottles selling out almost straight away!. . Graham, the vineyard manager who has been involved since the beginning, is responsible for managing the vines and ensuring the wine captures the essence of their chalky soils. His vision for the vineyard is one of minimum intervention and ecological harmony.

They plant a lot of phacelia and wildflowers to increase biodiversity and attract hoverflies, lacewings and parasitic wasps which keep brown apple moths under control amongst the vines. They are always looking for ways to move away from using herbicides, so to remove weeds that compete with the vines they have an undervine weeding tool as well as sheep to graze the grass down and add free fertiliser!

One to try this week: Rosé Bella 2014

 

3. Grange Estates

“I always really appreciated the historical importance and nobility of growing grapes and making wine. It’s a balance of hard graft, science and an almost artistic ‘feel’ for managing the vines.” (Quote from Furrowed)

Phil Norman, Grange Estates, Hampshire

At Grange Estates, four siblings came together to create a vineyard on a chalky sloped field which had been in an arable rotation for 150 years as part of their family farm. It is ideal for the 52,000 vines they planted, as it’s sheltered from the wind and south facing to the sun. They grow classic sparkling wine grape varieties, as their soil is akin to what you might find in the Champagne region of France.

To promote biodiversity and build soil health they are currently experimenting with three different cover crops  running across the vineyard. In one third there’s a basic mix of 18 wildflower varieties which look stunning when they come out, as well as attracting natural predators for the local pests by providing them with a habitat. In the next third there is a carpet of herb rich meadow grass which is regularly mown; it stays think and dense, limiting compaction of the soil and is very easy to manage. The last third is a fescue and ryegrass mix.

This vineyard has some of our favourite residents: bees. There are about half a dozen beehives close to the vines, and the pollinators just love the wildflowers. After harvest at Grange Estates, you will encounter a 60 strong flock of sheep grazing amongst the vines. They are lawnmowers like no other, keeping the weeds down and perfectly chomping every blade of grass to equal length.

Bare soil directly under the vines encourages weeds to grow, but Phil’s got a plan for this: to plant golf course grass under all the vines, and use a mower and strimmers which can be mounted on the front of his tractor to mow the vineyard, pretty cool! Phil will assess which trials have worked well and bring a plan together which cuts out herbicides from the vineyard by 2019.

You can’t buy wine online yet from Grange Estates, contact them for more info.

 

4. Oxney Estate

“A sustainable and natural approach underpins the estate – from generating our own heat from coppiced wood chip through to a natural approach to disease control in the vineyard using wild herbs and plants.”

Kristin Sylvetnik, Oxney Organic Estate, East Sussex

Oxney is the largest organic vineyard in the UK. The sandy and silty soil are a fantastic basis for growing the 33 acres of vines. The vineyard recognises the value of their soil, and take many approaches to ensure it’s health and well being. Organic, green compost is added to the soil regularly to provide an environment for microorganisms and fungi in the soil to thrive.

They don’t use any herbicides, which jeopardize the life of the soil, instead opting for a mechanical cultivator and hand weeder. Keeping weeds down this way is a laborious process but key to the health of their vines and taste of their grapes. Wild plants and herbs are planted to help relieve the pressure of disease in the vineyard.

One to try this week: Estate Rosé – all the flavours of the English countryside!

 

5. Botley’s Farm

Hugo Stewart, Botley’s Farm, Salisbury

Finally a quick mention for a very special biodynamic vineyard, which has yet to produce any wines, but it is worth keeping an eye on their progress. Hugo and his old friend Paul set up and ran an organic & biodynamic vineyard in the western Languedoc for twelve years. He since returned to Wiltshire in 2016 and planted 4500 vines on a south facing chalky slope, all managed biodynamically. The grapes will be made into english sparkling, with the least intervention possible; you’ll have to wait until 2020 to try one of these!

 

It’s evident that vineyards can be a place of great biodiversity, lush havens for life above and below ground that produce a delicious fermented grape juice for us all to drink. Using technology and tools is a key part of helping these vineyards thrive, a combination of experience and good data can help to reduce dependency on chemical inputs to the vines. All these vineyards use our app Sectormentor for Vines to improve their productivity and ensure they grow quality grapes for quality wine. We’re committed to building tools to help vineyards manage their vines efficiently, to ensure their grapes are healthy and their management decisions have maximum impact. For more information don’t hesitate to contact us on info@vidacycle.com

The Vineyard Helpers

The Vineyard Helpers 655 386 Sectormentor

While keeping up-to-date with vineyards across the globe on instagram we’ve come across an array of very important vineyard assistants who keep watch, control pests & weeds and nurture the soil & vines. This is an ode to all the furry, feathery and invertebrate friends who call a vineyard home.

 

The Vineyard Manager

Bacchus the vineyard dog runs a tight ship at Tuffon Hall Vineyard in East Anglia. They’ve been producing award winning english wines since 2014.

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Bacchus looking very dapper in the vineyard! ?

A post shared by Tuffon Hall Vineyard (@tuffonhallwine) on

 

The Marketing Manager

Bacchus the vineyard cat knows his way around the winery, wine bar, wedding venue and 24,000 vines growing over 16 acres at Hidden Spring vineyard!

 

The Security Manager

Keeping watch over the beast from the East at Dallwood Vineyard in Devon. The 3,000 vines were planted in 2009/2010 by a group of local villagers with a collective dream to produce great English wines.

 

The Pruning Expert

Billy doesn’t miss a trick when it comes to pruning, here he is checking the vines are present and correct at Hattingley Valley Wines, who produce english sparkling in Hampshire.

 

The Harvest Manager

Happy Harry is the resident vineyard dog at Broadley Vineyards, a family run winemaking business in the US with a sustainable focus.

 

The Grape Inspectors

It looks like Baci is in charge of quality control of these sustainably grown Pinot Noir grapes at Mirabel Vineyards in the Okanagan Valley, Canada.

A beautiful red admiral butterfly taking a closer look at organic grapes at Davenport Vineyards in Kent. Will Davenport has been growing vines since 1991 and also has a winery dog called Marvin!

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Picking Faber today among the butterflies

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A handsome vineyard dog at Humbleyard Vineyard in Norfolk checks on the white grape varieties before his human picks them from the vines. They have 10,000 vines covering 8 acres, plenty of space for a run about!

 

The Lawn Mowers

Tucked away down a Cornish lane near the coast you’ll find these two professional lawnmowers at Trevibban Mill Vineyard.

And then….. a whole flock of lawnmowers stampede into biodynamic vineyard Limeburn Hill, near Bristol. They take their jobs very seriously!

 

The Soil Gardeners

Very welcome little helpers: the long wigglers aren’t far behind the sheep at Limeburn Hill vineyard too.

 

The Pollinators

Busy bees tend to the largest vineyard in the UK Denby Wine Estate and organic vines at Albury Vineyard in the Surrey Hills.

 

The Pest Patrol

A group of majestic chickens on the hunt for rogue pests amongst biodynamic vines France.

 

The Cleaning Team

Chickens, pigs and vines living together in harmony at Hanzell Vineyards. They take a holistic and sustainable approach to preserve the health of their vineyard for future generations.

 

The Heavy Lifter

Working horses tend to the earth at Costers del Priorat in Italy.

 

and finally…

The Easter bunny!

 

If we’ve missed any vital vineyard helpers let us know, there’s always space for a few more. If your vineyard helpers or you are interested in learning more about your vines talk to us about how to start monitoring data and analysing trends in vineyards. 🙂