December update from the vineyard

By Caine Thompson, Mission Estate Viticulturist

On Bart’s arrival on the 7th of December for his second advisory visit to the vineyard, we discussed with Peter Holley (CEO, Mission Estate) the project to date and how it was progressing.

At this stage in the growing season the Pinot Gris, Chardonnay have completed flowering and Sauvignon Blanc is at the tail end of flowering. All blocks have been shoot thinned with doubles, unders and heads cleaned out. The collard leaf blower has also been through the Pinot Gris and Chardonnay to open up the bunch zone and to remove trash from within the bunch.

Vineyard walk at the December Organic Focus Vineyard field day, Mission Estate

Vineyard walk at the December field day

The organically run blocks have had sulphur (3kg/ha), copper (1kg/ha), protector (0.5%) and seaweed (2 l/ha) as foliar sprays through the season. These have been put on at 500 l/ha. Botryzen was used at 80% flowering for botrytis control.

In the conventional blocks we have used Kumulus (3kg/ha) and diathane (2kg/ha) as our foliar program leading into flowering with the use of 2 x applauds pre flowering for mealy bug control. At 80% flowering we used systhane (125ml/ha and switch 800g/ha) for powdery mildew and botrytis control.

At this stage in the project there seems to be no differences between any of the growing regimes in terms of canopy growth, timing of flowering or bunch numbers or pest and disease.

In terms of weed control we have run through our Pinot Gris block with the double sided Clemens which has done a fantastic job at clearing out the late spring weed growth. However it is important to note that care does need to be taken by staff when tucking in cultivated blocks as soil is turned over and it can be very easy to trip on and cause injury to staff.

We’ve noticed a few damaged plants from cultivation as well. I think that this is the reality when cultivating undervine so it needs to be built into operational repairs and maintenance budgets if growing under an organic regime.

In terms of canopy management, the Sauvignon Blanc blocks will be sheep leaf plucked, so hopefully these blocks won’t require any further cultivation. The Pinot Gris and Chardonnay will be machine leaf plucked and will probably require at least another mechanical cultivation. Some bunch thinning may also be required in Pinot Gris; this will be dependent upon bunch numbers and bunch size.

Over flowering the temperatures have been warm which should ensure a reasonable fruit set. There was however a significant wet weather event during the flowering period so it will be interesting to see if there are any latent effects of this at harvest when comparing the two regimes.

There has been a small amount of powdery mildew found on some leaves in the Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc in both the conventional and organic blocks. We will monitor this closely as the season progresses, especially leading into the Christmas period.

We are keeping a full economic analysis of the project to date and at this stage in the season the organic farming regime is significantly cheaper in terms of running costs per hectare. The extra cost of the conventional regime is mostly due to extra sprays for mealy bug under the industry standard conventional spray program which we have been using, whereas the organic blocks are being monitored for mealy bug before taking any action. It will be interesting to see how this pans out for the rest of the season. Watch this space……..

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November update from the vineyard

By Caine Thompson, Vineyard Manager, Mission Estate

The later part of spring has seen conditions more settled than early spring with warmer temperatures being reported around Hawkes Bay. As a result spring growth has been steady after a slow start to the season.

All blocks have been shoot thinned with double buds and heads all thinned out, to produce an open canopy. Tucking is currently being performed across these blocks so that the canopy is upright and tight before the collard leaf plucker is put into these blocks at fruit set which is fast approaching.

Flowering is at 80% in Pinot Gris and Chardonnay and 5% in Sauvignon Blanc. In terms of timing of flowering and canopy height there seems to be no difference in the timing between organic and conventional regimes.

The organic Pinot Gris block at 80% flowering, 23-11-10

Botryzen and Protector have been used at 80% capfall in the organics block, with sulphur and copper. Switch has been used with a DMI and diathane at 80% flowering in the conventional blocks. A tight sulphur, seaweed, copper, protector program has been run in the organic blocks over early spring. The conventional program has used sulphur and diathane as the basis of the early season programme. At this stage all blocks look free of pest and disease and seem to be showing good health as the season progresses.

Moteo Ridge have done the second cultivation with a combination of the Ridgeback, Tournosol and Clemens machines. The area under the vines in the organics block is friable, weed free and level and has done a fantastic job. The use of different implements at different stages in the season has enabled us to turn over the soils in early spring, and break down the mounds formed with the use of rotary tillers in mid spring. Undercutters will be used to remove weeds from the friable tilth through the remainder of the season.

The conventional Pinot Gris block, 23-11-10

An EM (Effective Microorganism) preparation soil drench has been applied across the organic blocks to assist with the improvement of soil structure. Bart has had good results in using EM with assisting with the breakdown of some fairly ‘tight soils’ in the past. It is with this recommendation that we are using this product to help build a more friable, aerated soil.

Soil testing has been completed across organic blocks and conventional blocks with a basic soil test with organic matter completed and a multi residue test performed as well. We are also awaiting results of a soil food web test and a mycorrhizal analysis on vine roots between the blocks as well. This will provide us with baseline data which will be useful for comparative analysis as the project continues.

The project is planning another field day/vineyard walk on 7 December with consultant Bart Arnst.

Conventional Chardonnay at 80% flowering, 23-11-10

Organic Chardonnay at 80% flowering, 23-11-10

 

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Focus vineyard project launches

Why organic?

By Caine Thompson, Viticulturist & Vineyards Manager, Mission Estate

There are a number of varying views about organic growing, and questions about whether it is achievable, whether it is cost effective, and whether fruit quality and quantity can be consistently produced when compared to ‘conventionally’ grown fruit. There are very few examples where a direct comparison between the two systems has been trialed where information has been collected and recorded about the process and the end results compared. It is with this in mind that we are attempting to answer these questions.

Mission Estate’s company vineyards have been accredited under Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand for a number of years, with all growers achieving SWNZ status as well. Mission also follows an environmental management system called ISO 14001 where we have been monitoring and measuring environmental impacts for the past 12 years.

The company vineyards at Mission Estate have been reducing chemical input for the past three years and moving towards more organic based products for pest and disease control.

This project is an opportunity to compare growing organically in a trial situation with consultation and advice from Bart Arnst, NZ’s leading organic viticulture consultant, so that we can try and answer some of the questions we have in regards to organic production.

We are very excited about this project and the opportunity that this has provided for us to work with Organic Winegrowers NZ and NZ Winegrowers in this joint project, which will add further knowledge and value to the NZ wine industry.

The project began in early September with Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay used as the blocks for the project to be undertaken on. These blocks have been divided into management zones for ease of operations so the organic and conventional areas for each variety can be kept separate for comparative purposes.

Early spring: first undervine cultivation for organic blocks

The season to date has proven to be very wet over the winter and early spring periods. This made it difficult to find a window for our first undervine cultivation to occur. The ground finally dried out enough so that cultivation could take place on the 27th of September. The Moteo Ridge – Ridgeback undervine cultivator was used and has done a fantastic job in turning over the soil into the area directly under the vines. The idea being that this area will provide a friable tilth for cultivation in subsequent months.

At this stage the weeds are still fairly suppressed and I don’t envision requiring another cultivation pass for at least another two weeks.

In some parts of the block where the soil was still fairly wet the cultivated strip hasn’t completely ‘turned over.’ It is going to be interesting to see how the next pass of the mechanical weeder deals with these areas. Another recent 90mm of rain in mid October has added to the available moisture within these blocks. We are now waiting for these blocks to dry before we spray these blocks with the next fungicide application.

The organic Sauvignon Blanc block after its first spring cultivation


The conventionally managed Sauvignon Blanc block in spring

 

First advisory visit and public vineyard walk

Bart Arnst visited on the 6th of October so we were able to discuss the blocks in conversion to organics, and the management plan for the year, along with pest, disease and nutrition programs. For powdery and downy mildew control the organic blocks are to receive a sulphur/copper/seaweed/protector program, compared to a sulphur/diathane program in the conventional blocks up until the start of flowering.

A soil drench was also recommended in spring to assist with enhancing the soil microbial diversity and to assist with enlivening the soil. This will be applied in mid October.

At this stage we are shoot thinning all of the Pinot Gris as shoots are 10cm in length and plan to shoot thin the Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc once they get to this stage.

We also discussed the economic modeling aspect of the project and the importance of this and keeping records of all costs separately for the organic and conventional blocks of the different varieties. Bart also suggested comparing diesel costs and taking worm counts as another comparison.

In terms of monitoring the three varieties and two growing methods, the following data will be collected for each:

– Fruit Quality – Brix, pH, Ta
– Yield – kg/vine
– Mealy bug monitoring
– Botrytis monitoring
– Worm counts
– Soil tests
– Financial costs for all inputs and management tasks

 

After walking through these blocks with Bart, we hosted a vineyard walk open to the wider Hawkes Bay. The invitation was sent out through Hawkes Bay Winegrowers to anyone that was interested in growing organically or was interested in the project.

Attendees at the public vineyard walk listen to Bart Arnst introducing the project

There were 30 people in attendance for the field day from every part of the wine industry, from operators to growers, vineyard managers, viticulturists, winemakers to sales managers.

Bart and I gave background about the project, what it was about, who was involved and why it was based at Mission Estate.

In the vines, at the vineyard walk

The idea was to walk through the blocks and discuss the management plan of the block, early season pest and disease control, and nutrition programs that would be run on the blocks involved. There were numerous questions asked about the project and the management/spray programs that were being run, which provided interesting discussion of ideas and thought processes.

There will be regular field days such as this, with Bart scheduled to make four visits to Mission over the course of the project. Each visit with Bart will provide an opportunity for interested parties to attend further field walks to monitor the progress of the project as it continues through the season. The next visit will be held in December.

I’m really excited about this project and am enjoying the challenge of growing under a different approach and liaising with different people about this project. Thank you to NZ Winegrowers and Organic Winegrowers NZ for providing the funding, support and expertise that has made this project possible.

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Organic advisor’s report

By Bart Arnst, Viticultural Consultant

 

Bart Arnst walks growers through the vines at the first Organic Focus Vineyard field day at Mission Estate

 

This was the first visit to Mission Estate as part of the focus vineyard comparison between an “in organic conversion” vineyard and a “conventional or agrichemically run vineyard.”

We initially had an in-office discussion. This entailed checking over a potential spray program, discussing nutrient requirements, weed control, and the possibility of taking comparative soil tests including MRT (multi residue tests).

After our initial discussions we followed with a vineyard walk, looking at the various blocks and getting an understanding of the property.

Between 3.00pm and 5.00pm Caine hosted an interested parties vineyard walk and discussion; approximately 30 growers attended.

Weed control options, pest and disease control strategies and soil health were all discussed.

The biggest issue I see at this stage is the enlivenment of the soil. It appears very tight, compact and tired. Imagine your root system attempting to penetrate through concrete: difficult of course, and likely to be restricting nutrient uptake, moisture penetration and reduced soil aeration, which in turn affects root metabolism. The property is after all one of the oldest (if not the oldest) vineyard sites in New Zealand, so in all likelihood has had all sorts thrown at it and on it over the previous decades.

Soil drenches and appropriate covercrop options were discussed and considered. Unfortunately we have missed the window on spring sowing and with the typically hot dry weather ahead we will wait to post-harvest for an autumn sowing.

The weeder used is unknown to me (developed locally) and has left a ready lawn turned over appearance. The owner/operator (local contractor) of the machine has indicated that the turf will be broken apart with the next pass.

Soils such as these can easily create pans, so varying depth of cultivation will be necessary. But most importantly feeding the soil and encouragement of soil microbial diversity should be the priority.

Caine is comfortable with the choices available for canopy spraying and will operate a conservative spray program this vintage. By this I mean it will be based around looking to substitute organically certified products for those previously applied. If previously product X was applied, then we will replace it with organic product Y. This is likely to evolve over time as all parties become more comfortable with the change in management systems.


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