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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Why biodiversity means better terroir – Part 3: Charter for biodiversity in vineyards

Why biodiversity means better terroir – Part 3: Charter for biodiversity in vineyards 690 460 Sectormentor

This guest post by Hans-Peter Schmidt from the Ithaka Institute & Mythopia was originally posted on Raw Wine in 2013. Hans kindly gave us permission to share it in a three part series, and said  “A few of years have passed since I wrote this, but the battle for biodiversity & terroir is still on, nothing has changed.” We heartily agree!

Missed the other parts of this series? Read part 1 here, and part 2 here.

Charter for biodiversity in vineyards

The principal idea behind the new methods for quality-orientated winegrowing is to specifically encourage biodiversity. This however has little to do with that aesthetical image of a vineyard full of fragrant flowers and grasshoppers. Instead it is based on an understanding of a vineyard as an ecosystem, whose flexible balance is created by the complex interaction of many different species of flora and fauna. The presence of various types of butterflies, beetles, bees and birds is the most obvious sign of an intact ecosystem, and the intention of promoting biodiversity is to achieve a stable ecosystem and to increase the quality of the Terroir via the sustainable use of natural forces.

Biodiversity of the soil and soil cover

  1. Promoting biodiversity in the vineyard starts with the reactivation of the soil. For this purpose only bioactive manure is applied: compost, compost extracts, herb extracts, cover crops, biochar, mulch, MRF. The use of artificial fertilizers, fertilizer concentrates, and non-fermented slurry is not allowed. The application of non-composted animal manure should similarly be avoided.
  2. Planting a permanent cover crop containing leguminous plants between the vines, thereby guaranteeing the supply of nutrients to the vines without any need for additional artificial fertilizers. The cover crop with its wide variety of leguminous plants promotes a very high level of biological activity in the soil and improves the storage of water and nutrients as well as preventing erosion.
  3. A perennial cover crop. The goal is to achieve a cover crop rich in species with native flowers. At least 20% of the seed mixture for the cover crop should be composed of insect-attracting plants.  The goal is to be able to find at least 50 types of wild plants in the vineyard.

Vertical biodiversity

  1. Planting bushes at the end of the rows where they do not interfere with vineyard work. The criteria for choosing the bushes are based on their potential attractiveness for butterflies and other insects, their nesting possibilities, the symbiosis of their roots and the use of their fruits. Native species are to be planted.
  2. Planting hedges at regular intervals between the vines. Depending on local conditions, at least 2 x 20m of hedges per hectare are recommended. The hedges act as biodiversity hotspots and as aisles, ideal for interconnecting ecological areas.  As natural barriers between the rows they stop harmful fungi from spreading.
  3. Planting fruit trees to improve vertical diversity. Trees among low-growing plants and in little-structured cultivation areas are a great attraction for birds, insects and other groups of animals and encourage the re-population of natural habitats. The trees reach up into the aerial plankton and act as collectors of spores; allowing yeasts and other fungi to colonize the vineyard (diversity of natural yeasts for wine making and as competition for harmful fungi). At least one tree should be planted between the vines for each hectare of ground as well as several small trees on suitable NE-NW vineyard boundaries. The distance to the nearest tree should not be more than 50m from any point of the vineyard. Possible grape harvest losses can be compensated by the fruit harvested from the trees.

Structural biodiversity

  1. Ecological compensation areas rich in species (at least 50 m2 for every hectare) should be created as diversity hotspots both within the vineyard and on its edges, where aromatic herbs and wild flowers can grow. The distance to the nearest hotspot should not be more than 50m from any point of the vineyard.
  2. Creation of structural elements such as stones and piles of wood for reptiles and insects. Installation of artificial nests for wild bees, insects and birds. The artificial nests may be integrated in the staking poles. Perches for birds of prey for a are good for fighting rodents. Any sprayed pesticides must be made up of substances causing no harm to bees or insects (no chemical pesticides and no sulphur)

Crop biodiversity

  1. Cultivation of at least one secondary crop between the main crop. This can be a vegetable such as tomatoes or pumpkins, a fruit such as raspberries or strawberries, a winter cereal such as rye or barley, or aromatic herbs, planted or sown between the rows of vines. Also suitable are fruit bushes like chokeberry, sea buckthorn or sloe planted in lines between the vines, as are rows of fruit trees (vineyard peach, plum, almond, quince, etc.). Secondary cultures also include bees, sheep, chickens, fish and other small farm animals. The areas earmarked for secondary cultures must be large enough to ensure a proper economic return.

Genetic Diversity

  1. Instead of grubbing up old vineyards and replanting them from scratch, the old vines should be successively replaced, with the new vines selected by means of massale selection from the same vineyard and being grafted on to existing vines, thereby over time achieving a selection of varieties perfectly adapted to the Terroir. Such genetic diversity reduces the threat of infection by pests, increases hardiness and generally improves the quality of the wine

(1) Niggli C: Legume green cover in vineyards, Ithaka-Journal, 2009, p.269-290, http://www.ithaka-journal.net/leguminosebegrunung-im-weinberg-kurzform?lang=en,

(2) Charter for vineyards with high biodiversity – Ithaka-Journal, 2009, p.291-294, www.ithaka-journal.net

(3) Briemle G, Eickhoff G, Wolf R. 1991: Mindestpflege und Mindestnutzung unterschiedlicher Grünlandtypen aus landschaftsökologischer und landeskultureller Sicht (Minimum maintenance and minimum use of different grassland types from a landscape ecological and national cultural perspective) – Beiheft 60 der Veröff. Naturschutz Landschaftspflege, 160 S., Available from: LfU Karlsruhe.

(4) Flügel I: Gesunder Weinberg durch Begrünung: Erfolgsfaktoren für eine hohe Weinqualität in Weinanbau (Healthy vineyards through the use of cover crops: success factors for the production of high-quality wines), VDM Verlag Dr. Müller, Saarbrücken, 2007

At Sectormentor we want to support all vineyards with building biodiversity. Have you tried any of the suggestions in this series? How are you monitoring biodiversity? We’d love to hear from you: info@vidacycle.com

Why biodiversity means better terroir – Part 2: Ecosystems, promoting biodiversity and economics

Why biodiversity means better terroir – Part 2: Ecosystems, promoting biodiversity and economics 690 460 Sectormentor

This guest post by Hans-Peter Schmidt from the Ithaka Institute & Mythopia was originally posted on Raw Wine in 2013. Hans kindly gave us permission to share it in a three part series, and said  “A few of years have passed since I wrote this, but the battle for biodiversity & terroir is still on, nothing has changed.” We heartily agree!

Missed part 1 of the series? Head back to read it here.

Stabilising the ecosystem through plant and insect diversity

Although promotion of biodiversity begins with soil reactivation (90% of all animal species live in the soil, and in one gram of healthy soil up to one billion micro-organisms and up to 60,000 different species can live), soil life is however not completely detached from the biodiversity visible above ground.

Plants constitute the link between habitats underground and above ground. In order for them to be able to effectively exercise this linkage function in the long term, they enter into a wide range of partnerships with their natural surroundings not just in the dark realms of their roots but also above ground. Just as they need the help of the wind or insects for pollination, they also need partnerships with beneficial organisms to fight their natural enemies.

The greater the plant diversity is, the greater the variety of insects, birds, reptiles, etc. living in self-regulating competition. Where plant diversity is destroyed by monocultures, a negative selection of bacteria, fungi, insects, etc. will occur, with only those species able to feed on the remaining plants in a position to retain their natural habitat. As their natural enemies are unable to develop on account of the one-sided focus of the crop, the few remaining species adapted to the monoculture are able to multiply unhindered, developing into pests and becoming a plague. Pesticide and insecticide spraying provides only short-term relief, as this encourages the negative selection, meaning that new pesticides and insecticides in increasingly high dosages need to be applied.

Further measures for promoting vineyard biodiversity

A high level of vineyard biodiversity is not just a way of controlling pests through the promotion of their natural enemies, but also helps strengthen a vine’s own immune system. In addition to stipulating a cover crop with abundant diversity between the vines, the Charter for Vineyards with High Biodiversity sets forth the following supplementary measures:

  1. Planting shrubs at the ends of each row, in places where they do not interfere with work. Criteria for the selection of shrubs include their attraction for butterflies and other insects, the provision of nesting opportunities, root symbiosis, and the use of any fruit. Native species are to be preferred.
  2. Interspersing hedges with the vines. Dependent on local circumstances, there should be at least 2 20-metre hedges per hectare. Hedges constitute biological hotspots, acting as corridors linking up ecological areas. Moreover they constitute a natural barrier preventing the spread of harmful fungi.
  3. Planting fruit trees as a way of improving vertical diversity. The presence of trees in the middle of a low-growing and little-structured field/vineyard is a great way of attracting birds, insects and other groups of animals. They are also a way of promoting the long-term colonisation of an ecosystem. At least one tree per hectare should be planted amidst the vines, and no point of the vineyard should be further than 50 metres away from a tree.
  4. The provision of compensatory areas (at least 50 m2 per hectare) as diversity hotspots both within and on the perimeter of a vineyard. These areas become the home of aromatic herbs and wild flowers.
  5. The provision of structural elements, such as piles of stones or wood. These provide a habitat for reptiles and insects. The provision of nesting aids for bees, insects and birds. These can be integrated into trellis posts. Perches for birds of prey, with the latter helping to keep the rodent population in check.
  6. Instead of grubbing up old vineyards and completely replanting them, vines that have become too old are replaced individually. The young vines are taken from the vineyard using massale selection and grafted onto existing root structures on-site. In doing so, selection perfectly adapted to the terroir takes place over generations. The thus achieved genetic diversity reduces the likelihood of infections through pests, boosts wine quality and also improves vine resilience to prevailing conditions.

The economic benefits of biodiversity

The intelligent use of resources and material cycles in wine-growing and agriculture can make a decisive contribution to protecting the environment, the climate and biodiversity, without negatively influencing productivity. The most visible sign (even for non-experts) of an incipient restoration of harmony in the vineyard is the number of different types of butterflies. Whereas five years previously (before conversion to the above-discussed methods) only two types of butterflies were to be found on the Delinat Institute’s vineyards, 2010 saw some 60 different types being counted. The following arguments are however probably of greater importance to wine-growers:

  1. The disease resistance of the vines has greatly improved over the last five years, with the consequence that neither chemical pesticides nor sulphur are needed any longer.
  2. Although fertilisers and herbicides are no longer applied, vine vitality and yields have stabilised at a high level.
  3. With sulphites and other oenological supplements no longer being used, the ageing potential of the wines has increased significantly.
  4. The increased labour costs are compensated by the savings in fertilisers and pesticides (costs for pesticides and fertilisers: EUR 150 / ha).
  5. The motivation of the people working in a bio-diversified vineyard is much higher, as shown by their increased efficiency and their willingness to take over responsibility.
  6. The aesthetic and ecological quality of the vineyard can be used as an important marketing argument vis-à-vis customers.

And last but not least, wine-growers will find themselves rediscovering pride in their work, creating great terroir wines in partnership with nature.

Stay tuned for Part three where we will share the charter for biodiversity in vineyards.

Missed the first part of the series? Head back to read it here.

At Sectormentor we want to support all vineyards with building biodiversity. Have you tried any of the suggestions above? How are you monitoring biodiversity? We’d love to hear from you: info@vidacycle.com

Why biodiversity means better terroir – Part 1: Life in the soil and cover crops

Why biodiversity means better terroir – Part 1: Life in the soil and cover crops 305 232 Sectormentor

This guest post by Hans-Peter Schmidt from the Ithaka Institute & Mythopia was originally posted on Raw Wine in 2013. Hans kindly gave us permission to share it in a three part series, and said  “A few of years have passed since I wrote this, but the battle for biodiversity & terroir is still on, nothing has changed.” We heartily agree!

“Biodiversity: the Foundation of Quality”

There are unmistakable signs that grape aroma, even in renowned terroirs, is deteriorating, while at the same time the susceptibility of vines to disease is continually calling for new pesticides. Against this background, European wine-growers are beginning to rethink their strategies, questioning established conventions, re-discovering the ecological context of their work and adopting a “back to the roots” strategy based on the natural principles governing terroir quality.

The core principle underlying the new methods used in quality-driven wine-growing involves specifically promoting biodiversity. Though the visible signs of this shift – a carpet of fragrant flowers covering the vineyard – are not insignificant, the main aspect of the new methods is an understanding of a vineyard as an ecosystem whose ecological balance is dependent on a complex network of biological diversity. The presence of large numbers of butterflies, beetles, bees and birds are the visible signs of the whole system being in balance. The core factor lies however in the soil. The biological activation of soil life is the key to a stable wine-growing ecosystem. Soil biodiversity is the decisive factor behind terroir quality and a vine’s resistance to disease.

The importance of soil life

Vines are not machines converting NPK fertilisers into grape juice, and in doing so extracting a few trace elements from dead rock. They are instead living organisms dependent for their well-being and prosperity on their symbiosis with numerous other organisms. The energy created by a vine through photosynthesis is not just used to produce leaves, grapes, new shoots and roots. Some 30% of it is also used for producing root exudates, the function of which is to supply a fully-grown vine in healthy soil with up to 5 trillion micro-organisms (more than 50,000 different species, for the most part bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes), from which it receives in exchange for carbohydrates important mineral nutrients, water and protection against parasites.

When this complex and extremely diverse network of micro-organisms in the rhizosphere of the plants is destroyed or permanently weakened by herbicides, pesticides, fertilisers and tilling, the vine’s entire biological system loses its balance. This in turn results in increased susceptibility to parasites and other pathogens (e.g. nematodes and mildew), reduced resistance to negative environmental influences (in particular water stress and nutrient shortages), lower life expectancy (a vine’s average life expectancy is 100 years), as well as the loss of the wine’s bouquet.

Characteristic terroir wines can only develop when the vine’s roots are able to uphold their symbiotic interaction with the wide range of species found in the soil and enabling the vine to organise its own nutrient system on the basis of a wide range of different nutrients.

Promoting soil biodiversity

A vine reigns over the microflora in its rhizosphere like a king over his kingdom. For this ‘kingdom’ to be established however, the requirements for a stable nutrient cycle need to be fulfilled throughout the soil system. Earthworms, arthropods, bacteria and fungi need a steady diet of organic matter (leaves, straw, twigs, branches, roots, bones, faeces, meat, exudates) which they decompose before storing and distributing them in the soil. Where this diet is not available – with spraying having killed off most of it, with soil ploughed up and compacted by tractors and/or when nutrients have been eroded and leached out of the soil -, soil life becomes doomed to a slow death.

To promote soil activity, a plethora of different plant species is required. Their different contents and life cycles are needed to supply the soil with nutrients throughout the year, thus stimulating soil activity. This is the reason why a large number of ‘companion’ plants are needed alongside the vine, not just providing green cover and protection for the soil, but also fulfilling the following functions:

  1. Building up humus;
  2. Distributing nutrients, aerating the soil and protecting it against erosion through roots spread out in all directions;
  3. Storing mineral nutrients through symbiosis with bacteria and mycorrhiza; producing natural fertilisers (in particular nitrogen and phosphorus) available to plants;
  4. Producing secondary phytochemicals important for balanced soil health;
  5. Increasing the soil’s capability to store water;
  6. Degrading and adsorbing toxic substances in the soil;
  7. Promoting insect diversity through flowers and leaves.

In accordance with these criteria, the Delinat Institute has developed a range of seed mixtures tailored to different types of soil and climate conditions. Over the last 5 years, these have been tested in different vineyards, looking at the effect they have on vines, wines and the ecosystem in general. The seed mixtures contain some 40 – 50 different plant species, whereby the majority are legumes with varying root lengths and growth rates (alfalfa, red clover, common sainfoin, birdsfoot trefoil, hop clover, vetch and vetchling).

Cover crops and their influence on wine quality

A meta-study on the effects of cover crops in vineyards has shown that these are practically nearly all positive with regard to reducing pathogens on vines. Vine health can thus be boosted and with reduced use of pesticides, grape quality can be influenced positively.

Through reduced pathogen pressure, vines become able to steadily improve their immune systems. This in turn allows further reductions in the amounts of pesticides needing to be sprayed, in the best case creating a self-reinforcing virtuous circle. An improved immune system leads to the increased production of secondary phytochemicals, again having a positive effect on grape and wine quality.

Where the vineyard soil is rich, selected cover crop strategies can help establish healthy competition, thereby regulating yields and improving grape quality. Induced moderate shortages force the vines to develop partnerships with soil micro-organisms (e.g. mycorrhiza fungi or rhizo-bacteria). These in turn can improve the availability of energy-rich nutrients. The result is an autonomous and, insofar as the right balance has been achieved between moderate stress and improved soil fertility, balanced diet for the vines, again having a positive effect on grape quality.

Stay tuned for Part two where we will share about ecoysystems, how to build biodiversity and its economic benefits.

Have you seen the cover crops growing at Everflyht Vineyard?

At Sectormentor we want to support all vineyards with building biodiversity. What has worked in your vineyard so far? How are you monitoring biodiversity? We’d love to hear from you: info@vidacycle.com

Case Study: Adam Foden at Gusbourne Estate

Case Study: Adam Foden at Gusbourne Estate 750 1000 Sectormentor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Case Study: Matt Strugnell at Ridgeview Estate

Case Study: Matt Strugnell at Ridgeview Estate 543 407 Sectormentor

Matt Strugnell at Ridgeview Estate


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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