Keeping Busy in the Vineyard
Winemakers can often be found out among their vines, especially if there is no viticulturist at the winery. It's important to know the vineyard to be able to make good wine, and the vineyard has to be well looked after, too. We're out there tasting grapes to check ripeness so we can decide the optimum time to pick. But there are other jobs to do before we get to that stage.
I spend a lot of time in the vineyard. Frankly, that’s because there’s a lot to be done. It may surprise you just how much attention the vineyard requires, from when the first green shoots come out in August to the end of harvest. Once the green shoots appear on the vines the clock starts ticking to get everything in place in time for vintage.
- The first thing to do is to begin lifting the trellis wires. On each vineyard post these wires need to be lifted up and attached to the post to support the growth of the vines. That’s four wires per post and around 7,000 posts in our little vineyard. This process will be repeated twice more as the vines continue to grow.
- We also need to thin out the shoots on our spur-pruned vines. Sometimes a single bud will produce two shoots however these shoots are not only weaker but can also make the canopy too thick by force of numbers. These need to be delicately removed my hand.
- As the vines grow, they will throw off the occasional burst of new growth from midway up the trunk. These shoots also need to be removed as their growth uses up the vine’s energy, which is better invested growing and ripening fruit. Each of our 30,000 or so vines need to be individually checked several times between spring and late summer when harvest begins.
- As summer advances, the leaves on the vines can close over the canopy, hiding the bunches of grapes from the wind and sun. Unfortunately, this slows ripening and can increase the pressure of disease. At Brown Hill Estate, we pluck away a dozen leaves on the eastern side of many of our wines to allow the morning sun to dry the dew off the grapes and to help them develop flavour and ripen fully.
- As much as I love the birds and kangaroos that I see around the vineyard, they love to eat our grapes and I don’t like that quite so much. If you’ve seen vineyards in January and February you’ll probably notice netting over the vines. This is there to keep those critters from eating the grapes but the nets don’t get there by themselves.
In reality, this doesn’t play out as a nice tidy list of five jobs to do. As different varieties ripen at different speeds and grow at different rates, the timing of each task will overlap with the others. Summer is hot and busy, but there is simply no other way in the pursuit of high-quality wine grapes.