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Hutchinsons diary: Vineyard priorities

Chris Cooper and Rob Saunders, vine specialists in the Hutchinsons Horticultural Team, continue their thoughts on vineyard priorities for March.

In March, pruning should be completed, herbicide strips tidied up, nutrition base dressings reviewed and pH ameliorated. If conditions are suitable, cultivations, like sub-soiling, can be undertaken, rotten/damaged posts replaced and wire work replaced or repaired. Thankfully, Hutchinsons expanding sundries team, headed up by Chris Williams can supply many of these materials.

Vines suspected of carrying infection of trunk diseases (GTD) should have been identified and marked, the distinguishing features would include apoplexy, stunted growth or, sometimes, individual vines showing early autumn colours. These should be pruned separately, usually last, with the prunings (or sometimes whole vines) being removed and burnt on the same day. A sensible precaution is to sterilise pruning equipment with a disinfectant material between cuts but definitely at the end of the shift. 

For non-infected prunings, burning is best practice and those with burning barrows achieve excellent crop hygiene. Pruning gangs can work steadily through, burning as they go and disinfecting their pruning equipment between cuts or between vines. There is a requirement to hold the relevant Environment Agency exemptions permit to carry out burning of prunings. 

Using a mower or pulveriser to chop the prunings into small pieces is acceptable and is the most practical way to dispose of them on larger holdings, reducing the infection bridge provided no corners are cut such as leaving prunings in alleys for weeks. The prunings will break down relatively quickly on healthy soils. 

Ideally now is the time to look into frost mitigation by clearing areas that may prevent frost dissipation, clearing the weed free area under the vine allowing bare earth to retain heat. Sharpen mower blades ready for April.

At the WineGB conference the Dr Glen Creasey talk included information on nutrition, advising growers to work from the soil upwards. A recent soil analysis, less than four years old, is required (if unavailable, get one carried out) combined with crop off-take from the previous season. This will give a baseline for macro-element additions. There were some big crops in 2018 so it is likely potash, nitrogen and possibly phosphate will be required. Potash and phosphate take a while to permeate to rooting zones from the soil surface, even longer if a green manure/mulch is being applied, so make potash and phosphate applications in mid to late March.

From their vineyards to yours

Whether establishing your first vineyard or expanding existing plantings, there is no one-size-fits-all recipe for success. While finding a suitable site is vital, investing in the right vines, the very foundations for the future success of the entire business, must be the next priority.

Many vineyard owners, new to the world of viticulture, seem too happy to accept vines which have been ordered at short notice from multiple nurseries, as agents scramble around to find the right clone and rootstock combinations, at the best possible price, just months before planting. But with little control or scrutiny over where the vines are sourced from, how can the future quality of the fruit be guaranteed? 

Putting quality and traceability first, in 2016 Sam Barnes started working with France’s largest nursery, Pépinières du Comtat, to ensure that growers in the UK could access high quality grafted vines, whose journey to the vineyard could be tracked right back to the specific rootstock plot, or bud site that they came from. 

“We don’t ever build up orders from other nurseries, and vines only ever come direct from Comtat,” said Sam Barnes, vine advisor and owner of viticultural contract firm SJ Barnes. “I would rather not supply and have a customer’s vines specifically grafted for the following year, than provide a grower with potentially inferior stock. Grafting is a very specialised process and I think more growers should be questioning how their vines are produced.”

Keen to share this intricate process with the industry, Sam recently took Vineyard magazine and several customers who will be planting in May 2019 on a tour of the facilities at Pépinières du Comtat.

Top nursery 

Nestled on the outskirts of Sarrians, a picturesque French village in Provence, is the Barnier family chateau; their one million bottle per year capacity winery, Fontaine Du Clos; and extensive vine grafting and storage facilities.

“Pépinières du Comtat is a cooperative of seven farmers who grow rootstocks and buds for grafting,” said Claire Barnier. “Our family is the biggest partner and this site, which is one of five production and storage spaces, is the largest.”

While the Barnier family had always run a small propagation operation, it was in 1969, 50 years ago, that Jean Barnier took over and started to develop and grow the company to the size it is today.

“We have around 380 hectares of rootstocks, which are used for our own vines and sold to other nurseries in France, Germany and Switzerland,” said Claire. “We then grow all our own buds, graft all our own vines and around 100 hectares of nursery is planted each spring. When you take all the rootstocks, buds and grafted plant numbers into consideration, Comtat is without doubt the top nursery in the country.”

The impressive volume of rootstock and vineyards for bud production, along with extensive production and storage facilities, means that growers who buy vines from Comtat can be confident that the team has overseen the entire process.

“Knowing that everything has been grown and looked after by Comtat is really important to our customers because they know we can safeguard the quality and also the security of their vines,” said Claire. “We can tell them where each rootstock and bud came from and we know exactly what has happened to the vines all the way from them growing in our vineyard to being planted in theirs.”

To read the full article go to the March online edition.

Soil health

The terms ‘soil health’ and ‘soil quality’ are often used to describe the same concept which identifies the ability of a soil to meet its ecosystem functions. Or to put it simply, can the soil do what is required of it? When we think of what is required from a soil we often think just in terms of plant growth and yield but there are a range of quantifiable physical, chemical and biological characteristics that when viewed holistically portray soil as a living dynamic organism.

Soil characteristics that can be determined and also have an effect on vine growth include: bulk density, soil structure, pH, nutrient content, organic matter content, microbial diversity, earthworm numbers and soil respiration. Different management practices within the vineyard can alter these parameters and vine growth enormously.

When thinking of soil management most people initially think of nutrient content and pH which my colleague Julian Searle covered last month. There are however many other operations that we do: the addition of organic matter as a mulch of composted green waste or a green manure crop incorporated or mown and left in the vine row, subsoiling, weed control by either the use of herbicides or soil disturbance for example by use of a Rollhacke. 

These all have an effect on soil health, addition of organic matter can decrease bulk density, increase cation exchange capacity (the ability for a soil to hold nutrients), increase water holding capacity and increase microbial biomass. Subsoiling can reduce compaction and waterlogging preventing the soil from becoming anaerobic with an associated reduction in microbial biomass.

Microbial Biomass is particularly important as the soil microbial community plays a vital role in relation to plant growth and fulfils a range of functions, including mineralisation of nutrients, nitrogen fixation, water and nutrient uptake and root protection from pathogens.

Certain weed management practices can also impact soil macro and micro-organisms. Mulches such as composted green waste supress annual weeds but promote perennial weeds such as thistles. Herbicides offer effective control but by some are viewed as undesirable and environmentally unfriendly. Cultivation or soil disturbance, however has a down side as it can damage soil fauna such as earthworms, breaks fungal hyphae such as Mycorrhiza and leads to a loss of soil organic matter and microbial biomass.

Of the soil based operations we do, weed control is the most common and through the route we use, can have the greatest effect on soil microbial biomass and hence crop growth and yield. It is worth noting that in agriculture, the move from ploughing to a minimum or no tillage system is one of the principles of conservation agriculture.

Time for tirage

Fresharom protects the wine from the negative impacts of oxygen on colour and aroma. 

Key impacts

υ Specific preparation of inactivated yeast with high protective power, for aroma preservation in white and rosé wines, thanks to its unique reducing metabolite composition, allows the yeast to assimilate glutathione precursors (cysteine, N-acetyl cysteine) during AF, and therefore boosts wine glutathione content.

υ Protects the aromatic potential of the wine and significantly delay the appearance of oxidative notes (ageing aromas: sotolon and phenylacetaldehyde).

υ Inhibition of browning pathway.

υ Favours yeast nutrition during alcoholic fermentation.

υ Allows more aromatic sparkling wines with better cellaring potential.

υ Thanks to its composition, Fresharom® participates actively to the bubble finesse and foam persistence.

What is happening and why is it so effective and suitable for your wine? 

Adding Glutathione during tirage or alcoholic fermentation can inhibit reactions in the wine that can have negative impacts on the organoleptic results both visually and taste/aroma. Glutathione is an abundant compound present in many organisms, such as the grapes itself and is a powerful anti-oxidant. Levels of Glutathione can be variable in grapes/must and harvesting techniques (machine harvesting is the most detrimental) can have a significant impact on the Glutathione content. Boosting Gluthathione through that addition of Fresharom can be a natural way to help protect your wine.

Browning reaction from oxidation

Browning is an oxidative process occurring during the vinification of wine that detracts from its sensory properties of appearance, aroma, and flavour. Phenols are responsible for the oxidative browning in wine. Browning can be a result of enzymatic oxidation, which almost entirely takes place in grape must, and nonenzymatic oxidation, also called chemical oxidation, that occurs predominantly during wine aging. In addition, polymerization reactions between phenols and other wine constituents, including acetaldehyde and glyoxylic acid may also give rise to browning pigments. Fresharom at the juice and at alcoholic fermentation can help mitigate the browning risk although it is not a substitute for proper phenolic management through fining or otherwise.

Phenolics, Quinone formation and Fresharom

The main phenolic compound, which is normally oxidised in white juice, is caftaric acid to the corresponding caftaric acid quinone. Glutathione can prevent quninone formation that is often the key negative compound in a bitter wine. As a tri-peptide consisting of three amino-acids: glutamate, cysteine and glycine, it is most functional in the reduced form, GSH formed when using Fresharom. The GSH traps the quinones in a colourless form and the formation of brown polymers is limited. The mechanism in which GSH works is by reducing the oxidised quinone form to a stable grape reaction product, most likely due to the free sulfhydryl moiety (SH).

Impact of Fresharom on aroma compounds (see below graph)

Esters and terpenes

Terpenes and esters are key wine aromas. Esters of higher alcohols and ethyl esters positively contribute to wine quality by imparting fruity aromas from the alcohol fermentation. Terpenes, such as linalool, α-terpineol and geraniol, impart floral, rose-like and perfumed characters in wine. Fresharom reduces the degradation of these volatiles during wine storage, especially in lower sulphur dioxide wine (circa 20mg/l free SO2). The protective effect of GSH on esters and terpenes during wine storage.

Volatile thiols

Desirable aroma compounds in wine such as key Thiols like mercaptohexylacetate (3MHA) are particularly susceptible to oxygen and quinones formed during the oxidation of the phenolics, which are highly reactive with thiols. GSH, also a thiol, outcompetes to react with quinones and is sacrificial, leaving the positive thiol aromas to remain unbound and contribute positively to the wine aroma.

Hydrogen sulfide (H2S)

High levels of H2S contributes to the “reductive” off-flavour in wine that is unwanted in all stages of winemaking. It is important to note the anti-oxidative effects of Fresharom, if overused may lead to more reduced characters so it is important to follow guidance and recommended technical sheets.

In conversation… Victoria Mason

What was the first English/Welsh wine you tasted?

Sorry to be so predictable, but it was Nyetimber’s Classic Cuvee, to celebrate moving to London nearly 10 years ago.

How many English/Welsh wines do Waitrose now stock and are you planning to grow this range over the next 12 months? 

Waitrose and Partners is proud to stock the largest range of English and Welsh wines of any multiple retailer, with 101 wines from 48 producers based in more than 20 counties, from Derbyshire to Cornwall. We already have a comprehensive range, but I have five new wines launching this May/June and there is opportunity to introduce further new lines in store this year.

What is your favourite part of finding new English/Welsh wine suppliers?

Despite its meteoric rise in popularity, the English and Welsh wine industry is still very much emerging. This gives me the opportunity to work with truly brand new producers who have never been on shelves before. It’s one of the most exciting parts of my job and a huge privilege too.

What is the most challenging part of finding new suppliers?

Waitrose and Partners has a high level of expectation around technical standards to ensure transparency in product safety. Sometimes new producers are not set up to manage this, but we provide a self assessment questionnaire to give all prospective producers a sense of what is needed to supply Waitrose. For most retailers of our size, the biggest challenge would probably be in finding sufficient volume, but luckily due to our local and regional focus, we don’t have that problem.

When it comes to new listings, how much decision making comes down to figures and sales forecasts? 

How the wines are forecast to perform is important, but before I get to the commercials it’s looking for wines which address a gap in the range – in terms of county or region represented, or a particular wine type or style. Most importantly, they have to inspire me with their quality, packaging and story.

What is your favourite grape variety and why?

Chenin Blanc. It is an absolutely thrilling variety and has so many expressions and styles. I am also responsible for buying wines from South Africa and the Loire which might explain my love affair with Chenin.

How does the regional store focus benefit smaller producers? 

Our local and regional focus means that a producer can supply Waitrose even if their volumes are quite small. We are hugely lucky to work with Davenport Vineyards, for example, but Will’s volume is such that at present he only supplies the one local Waitrose store in Crowborough. Similarly, we work with the lovely team behind Black Dog Hill Vineyard and list the wine on Waitrose Cellar only. If and when capacity grows, then we can review distribution. This approach is a great route to market and in fact 70% of our range is listed in 20 local stores or fewer.

What is the most memorable wine you have tasted? 

This is always one of the hardest questions to answer as a wine lover, but I think I’ve got to say one I was partially involved in making. In 2017 I worked as part of the Rustenberg harvest in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Tasting their Chardonnay 2017 when I had pressed the grapes, and filled the barrels, was quite a moment. 

Should producers be focusing on developing the reputation of still wines? 

I think still wines are a really exciting development area for England and Wales, especially following the stunning 2018 vintage. Still wine currently accounts for about a quarter of our English and Welsh wine sales, but that’s following a couple of tough frosted vintages, so we’re sure this will grow in 2019. Still wines give customers the opportunity to enjoy English and Welsh wines for everyday occasions rather than just for celebrations.

How would you describe English / Welsh wine as a category to someone who has never come across it before? 

Dynamic, evolving, diverse, exciting, making huge leaps in terms of quality, daring, and bold.

Shelf appeal (packaging) or stories and accolades? 

In a supermarket the shelf appeal is critical, as a lot of purchasing decisions are made based on the look of the bottle. In our shops, we have a very wide range of wines from all over the world, the wine needs to stand out on the shelf to catch our customers’ attention.

How is Waitrose supporting the growth of the UK’s wine industry? 

We have supported the UK wine industry since the very early years. As well as stocking such a large and diverse range in local stores, we make 90% of this range available to our customers up and down the country via our specialist website Waitrose Cellar. In 2009 we planted our own vineyard Leckford Estate farm in Hampshire, so that we can make wonderful wine (produced at Ridgeview Estate) and to better understand the challenges of vineyard management that producers face.

How can producers engage with retailers to help increase sales of English & Welsh wines?

In-store tastings from our local and regional wine producers are a really effective way to drive sales. Squerryes, for example, do this superbly and arrange tastings directly with the seven Waitrose stores that they are listed in. You’d be surprised at how many more bottles per store they are able to sell than some of the big names. It just goes to show this level of personal contact is something our customers really welcome.

We are different and unique in the supermarket world in that we have WSET-trained beers, wines and spirits specialists in many of our stores who are able to engage with customers directly. This gives our English and Welsh producers an excellent opportunity to directly influence the people who interact with our customers, by organising vineyard visits for their local specialists or by coming into store to talk to them and the management team.

How can producers better position themselves in a competitive market?

Realistic pricing is key, especially on still wines. We have carved out an excellent, premium position on sparkling which works well, but on stills the competition is fierce. While production costs are more expensive in the UK, the wine still needs to offer value for money against gloabl counterparts. Packaging is also really important. I love that some English and Welsh producers are pioneering more modern, impactful label designs and these really stand out on shelf.

In store or online? 

In store still accounts for the vast majority of our wine sales but online is growing all the time, especially as we have a dedicated specialist wine website, Waitrose Cellar. Interestingly for English and Welsh wines, we sell a greater percentage online than for wine as a whole – which indicates that our customers are actively using Waitrose Cellar to gain much wider access to English and Welsh wine than their local store provides alone.

What advice would you give to your younger self? 

I can sum this up with a quote from Roald Dahl, which very much reflects my own entry into the wine industry three years ago: “If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it at full speed ahead. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good.” 

Corks or screwcaps? 

There is a place for both and Waitrose customers buy into both of course. To tempt new customers into buying English and Welsh wines for the first time, screwcaps on still wines can make the product appear to be more accessible.

If you weren’t working in wine what would you be doing?

Working in a vineyard… Although my pruning skills need improvement. If that doesn’t count, I would either be working in horticulture (I previously bought plants), or lecturing in English Literature.

Non-vintage neoterics

In 2011 Malcolm Isaac invited Corinne Seely to become head winemaker at his vineyard in the village of Exton, which he had purchased in 2009 following the sale of Vitacress Salads.

“It was like reading books for years and suddenly being offered the opportunity to write your own; I was so excited,” said Corinne Seely. “But, I said to Malcolm, I am still a French winemaker and I cannot believe that England has the ability to produce vintage wines every year. I wanted to be able to create a consistent taste and to develop a brand, so we set about building a winery which would not only have tanks for vinification but also facilities to keep the wines in reserve.” 

With Malcolm’s full support, Corinne set about transforming an old shed into her winery and, doing what would normally be done over one year in just six months, everything was in place for the first day of harvest on 11 October 2011.

Choosing to focus on the production of non-vintage wines, Corinne set about building a library of reserve wines and while the construction of the winery may have been rushed, the release of the range certainly wasn’t, with Exton Park only making its debut in 2015. 

“It was a huge investment and big gamble because at that time people in England were not talking about non-vintage and it looked mad,” said Corinne. “When we released our Brut Reserve, Rosé and Blanc de Noirs and the Rosé won 17 international medals, including a trophy for the best sparkling rosé we knew we were heading in the right direction.” 

Appreciating each plot

A triumphant entrance onto the English sparkling wine scene paved the way for further expansion of the winery and in 2016 Corinne commissioned several vats, uniquely designed to match the output from the vineyard’s various parcels. 

“Part of the success of Exton Park comes from that fact that Fred Langdale, our vineyard manger, and I work very closely,” said Corinne. “After a few years we knew, more or less, how many grapes would be produced in the different sections of the vineyard and so the vats have different volume compartments which corelate to the vineyard.” 

Lots of small vats might be a more costly approach, but Corinne is convinced that the ability to appreciate each plot leads to a much happier winemaker and advises that anyone looking to set up a winery would be wise to think about tanks. 

Benefiting from the option to keep everything separate, when it comes to blending Corinne is able to work with around 40 different wines to ensure that the final composition which reaches the consumer is both a true expression of Exton Park and is also consistent year on year.

In a bid to always have a large library of wines to call upon, the winery is currently being expanded by one third which will allow the team to keep at least one third of every harvest, in reserve for at least four years.

To read the full article, turn to our March online edition.

Vineyards of Hampshire

A collaborative group of eight English wine producers, the Vineyards of Hampshire, gathered on Wednesday 13 February at one of London’s finest private members’ clubs, 67 Pall Mall, in St. James’s, to promote the array of distinctive styled still and sparkling wines produced in the county to over 100 trade buyers and wine writers.

Black Chalk

Having previously worked for fellow member Hattingley Valley, Black Chalk’s founder and winemaker Jacob Leadley was keen for his family’s new English wine project to be involved in the Vineyards of Hampshire initiative from the start. 

“Not only is there a real community feel, with everyone working to boost the region as a whole, but the events we are able to put on collectively surpass anything we could do as an individual,” said Andrew Seden, sales director. “There were certainly more people at the tasting than we had expected; the wines went down very well and we were pleased with the feedback, especially for the new vintage.” 

On tasting was the estate’s 2015 Classic, the 2015 Wild Rose and the 2016 Wild Rose, which will officially launch at ProWein on 17 March 2019. Black Chalk’s range is produced with fruit sourced from Hampshire’s top growers and is distributed across the UK by Red Squirrel Wines. 


Located in the Test Valley, Cottonworth produce 10,000 bottles of sparkling wine per year from its 30-acre site. The wines are made by Emma Rice at Hattingley Valley, with the majority of the estate’s fruit also sold to the estate for use in its own label wines. 

“The winemaking team at Hattingley is excellent and the success of Cottonworth really relies on them,” said Federico Firino. “Personally I think the wines, benefiting from 34 months’ lees aging and one year on the cork for the Classic Cuvée NV and 30 months’ lees aging and eight months on cork for the Sparkling Rosé, are really showing at their best. Our wines are distributed into London by Berkmann Cellars and over the last year we have also been more proactive in getting local businesses on board with the brand.”

Looking ahead, Cottonworth is anticipating the release of 2,000 bottles of its 2014, Blanc de Blancs. 

Danebury Vineyard

Planted in 1988 before English producers started to focus on the Champagne trio, Danebury Vineyards, located near Stockbridge, produces some delightfully unusual still and sparkling wines. “Our vines our old, so the yield is not enormous, but the quality is incredible,” said Caroline Stevens, sales and marketing manager. “We produce about 10,000 bottles per year, which are made by skilled winemaker Vince Gower at Stanlake Park, who really understands our fruit and our house style.” 

Alongside the 2016 Madeleine Angevine and 2014 Cossack, which have been reviewed by Matthew Jukes, see page 26, Danebury was showing its 2016 Schönburger and 2016 Reserve, a blend of 30% Madeleine Angevine, 30% Schönburger, 38% Auxerrois and 2% Pinot Gris.“Since the last tasting we have taken on a new distributor for the London markets,” said Caroline. “It is quite a big move for us and we are excited to see what opportunities working with Wineservice will present.” 

Exton Park

The subject of this month’s Editor’s Visit, see page 20, this dynamic estate focuses on crafting consistently fresh, vibrant non-vintage wines produced exclusively with Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Pinot meunier grown on the 55-acre site. Head winemaker Corinne Seely has poured her passion for the distinct category of English sparkling wine, and many years’ experience of producing wine around the world, into the range and has even created a wine specifically suited for Britain’s friendly, social, wine loving public. In his monthly wine column, Matthew Jukes has reviewed the estate’s Blanc de Noirs NV, see page 26. 


England’s oldest commercial vineyard, established in 1952 by Major General Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones, Hambledon has sought to produce premium quality English Sparkling wine exclusively from chardonnay, Pinot noir and Meunier since 1999. Following a large planting in March 2018, the estate now comprises 200 acres of land under vine. 

All wines, which are available to the trade through Fields, Morris and Verdin, are produced in a gravity-fed winery by the traditional method with an emphasis on malolactic fermentation and extended lees-ageing.

Hattingley Valley

Managing over 24 hectares of vines across two sites in Lower Wield, Hattingley Valley produces a range of still and sparkling wines, as well as an Aqua Vitae, which is five-times distilled Chardonnay from the 2015 vintage. 

The use of oak barrels to ferment a small proportion of the wines each year has allowed the estate to develop a distinctive style. Aside from the NV Classic Reserve and the 2014 Sparkling Rosé, it was the Hattingley Valley 2013 Demi-Sec which really stood out at the London tasting.

“The Demi-Sec always attracts a lot of interest because it is so different,” said Bex Fisher, marketing and events manager. “Our 2013 Blanc de Blancs, benefiting from four years on lees, was also really popular and we are planning to launch it imminently.” 

As well as working on a one million bottle capacity production and storage building, the estate is also looking forward increasing its availability of tours and events in 2019. 

Jenkyn Place

Since the last trade tasting, Jenkyn Place has planted an additional 2,000 Pinot noir vines, to allow them to make a wider range of sparkling wine styles each year. The wines, which are made by Dermot Sugrue at Wiston Estate, include a 2013 Classic Cuvée, a 2014 Sparkling Rosé and a 2010 Blanc de Noirs. 

“We consistently receive a lot of wonderful comments about our Blanc de Noirs,” said Camilla Jennings, sales and marketing manager. “People have been tasting it for a while now and they are always shocked by the acidity in such a mature wine.” Currently undergoing dosage trials, Jenkyn Place will be launching its Blanc de Blancs in late spring, early summer. 


Grapes grown on the fifth-generation family farm in the South Downs National Park are sent to Hattingley Valley where they are transformed into a range of award-winning sparkling wines by Emma Rice and her team. 

Showing its 2014 Classic and 2015 Blanc de Noirs, Raimes believes that London trade tasting offers a wonderful opportunity for wine writers and the trade to build a picture of the diversity of wines coming from Hampshire.

“We had fantastic feedback over the day, especially for our Blanc de Noirs,” said Augusta Raimes. “As a group, we were thrilled with the number of people who attended the tasting this year and the overall consensus seemed to be that the quality in the room is very high.” In 2019 the estate will be releasing its first sparkling rosé and will be participating in the group’s annual wine trail through the summer months. By promoting the trail on set days throughout the summer the scheme gives smaller, independent estates, who are not normally open to the public, the opportunity to provide a cellar door experience.

Driving the sector forwards

It was not only vineyard managers and winemakers who heralded 2018 as an exceptional year. Since establishing the specialist viticultural machinery dealership, Vitifruit Equipment, in 2010, owners David Sayell and Richard Witt have just witnessed their best year yet.

While the increasing number of vineyards being planted and the growing number of viticulturalists operating in the UK has helped to drive this success, David believes that new customers only account for half of 2018’s sales. A significant proportion of machinery has also been making its way to established growers who are keen to replace existing equipment to keep up to date with the latest technology and who are determined to find ways to reduce labour costs in the vineyard.

Anyone who has visited a viticultural machinery show in the past will be able to appreciate the vast array of manufacturers operating in the sector internationally and the sheer number of equipment options and models on offer.

To help English and Welsh growers access a catalogue of specialist vineyard equipment which is not only reliable and easy to use but, most importantly, relevant to the UK’s conditions, David, who also has practical experience of managing vineyards and a comprehensive understanding of how machinery works, has invested greatly in extensive research, visiting manufacturers and attending trade shows. 

“Over the years I have been pretty shrewd in selecting quality equipment which wouldn’t produce problems with break downs and which would be right for the UK market,” said David Sayell. “There is so much choice out there it can be overwhelming for both new and existing growers. When it comes to making sure that customers have the right machines for their vineyard I think about what I would do if I was in their shoes. We can look at the situation on the ground and discuss realistic budgets before homing in on a manufacturer or model which will suit their needs.” 

To read the full article visit the March online issue.

Matthew Jukes: Rebels with a cause

I love this definition of a non-conformist: a person who does not conform to prevailing ideas or practices in their behaviour or views. Rebels are seemingly even more attractive: someone who fights authority.

We have a good few wineries and individuals in our wine business whose strong characters and beliefs have enabled them to stand out from the crowd. Of course, this can act against you if the wines you are making and selling don’t appeal to the consumer, but if you get the message right and have the courage of your convictions then fame (or should that be notoriety) will surely follow.  

Non-conformists come in all shapes and sizes. Some have their individuality forced on them and once they realise this, and they embrace and augment their differences, they inevitably flourish. We have a lovely band of old-timers in the English wine trade balanced by a legion of bright young things. There is a lot of good wine out there too, and it is getting better and better as every year passes.  

Styles and sub-regions are starting to emerge, and consumers are figuring out what they ought to expect in the bottle long before they have opened it. This reliability and dependability is to be encouraged, but to bring colour and movement to the category we need a few independent minded sorts who are prepared to occasionally upset the apple cart and make a bit of noise.  

It’s a good job that the vast majority of so-called non-conformists in this country actually make rather beguiling wines. I happen to think that genuine rebels are essential for any market to thrive and evolve. As a word of warning, fake rebels, those who drive the wrong way down a one-way street, often come a cropper and in our highly sophisticated market they will not only stick out like a sore thumb, but they will also suffer swiftly. We have so much choice in the UK, that only great wine will survive. If you can make great wine while hitting a few nerves, then go for it.

NV Blanc de Noirs
Exton Park, Hampshire 
£18.95, half bottle

NV Blanc de Noirs

Surely Exton Park is not a rebellious outfit? Let me tell you that this winery is bucking the trend and doing it incredibly well indeed. This is a half bottle of elite sparkling wine and halves are so rare these days that I yelp when I spot one. I can remember a time when they were all the rage (albeit 30 years ago), but when the big Champagne brands started to pull out of this format for reasons of variability, cost and, perhaps, naked greed, I felt genuinely aggrieved. 

You need clean corks and an elite level bottling line in order to ensure that this smaller size stands no chance of magnifying any fleeting anomalies in your wine. Assuming that most wineries should be able to manage this I am amazed that so few wineries are doing it. A great half bottle of fizz is a truly wondrous creation. A half pours one large glass for two people – it is what sparkling wine was made for.

Thank you Corinne Seely and your team for giving us this gift. It is a 100% Pinot noir stunner with Corinne’s trademark touches of distinction and flair and I urge every single person who reads this to live a little and buy some.

2017 Charmat Rosé
Flint Vineyard, Norfolk
£21.99, reduced to £20.00 per bottle each if you buy six

2017 Charmat Rosé

If you can avert your gaze from the drop-dead gorgeous design of this bottle, you might be able to read the word Charmat on this label. Wine snobs look down their noses at Charmat method sparklers preferring to sing the praises of traditional method wines. This is because Prosecco is made in the tank-fermented Charmat method and Champagne, and the vast majority of our top-class English sparklers, are made from the traditional, secondary fermentation in bottle, method.  

But why are we so blinkered? Are those Charmat bounders cheating, with their immediately appealing, deliciously appointed, crowd-pleasing wines? Of course not! They are making wine the best way they can to suit the style which they feel extremely passionate about. 

Flint Vineyard does such a cosmically astounding job with this wine that I thrilled to say that it is the finest Charmat-method wine I have ever tasted. It is also the very first released in the UK. Owner / winemaker Ben Witchell and his wife Hannah are two of the most thoughtful people I have encountered in our home grown wine scene. This wine is a beacon of excellence and the Witchells are quintessential non-conformists who have turned the game on its head.

2016 Madeleine Angevine
Danebury, Hampshire

2016 Madeleine Angevine

I have always felt that Danebury is somewhat of a non-conformist estate. For a start, their respected sparkler, Cossack, is made from Auxerrois blanc and Pinot gris and this gives it a unique stance in our market which is understandably drenched with Chardonnay and Pinot noir.  

I happen to like Cossack and celebrate its uniqueness and, while it is an outlier, in our wine trade it shows serious confidence sprinkled with a dusting of nostalgia. This estate was planted back in 1988 and 30 years ago Chardonnay and Pinot noir didn’t get a look in but this doesn’t matter because Danebury has stuck to its guns. 

My chosen wine is perhaps even more of a non-conformist than Cossack. Danebury’s Madeleine Angevine (MA) has always been a quietly enjoyable wine but in 2016 this discreet winery has made a thoroughbred beauty. This MA does not confirm to type – it soars above expectation for this demure variety. It will floor you with its charms. In fact, every new release from this winery is a cracker. Non-conformists rarely shock like this one. 

The vine post

“Knowledge is power” is the idiom, but knowledge is now about data. Data gathering in the vineyard is the most effective way to give a comprehensive picture of vineyard performance.

Scouting is a crucial part of vineyard management. It’s one of those tasks that every grower knows needs doing, but can never find the time to do. In UK viticulture, the current set-up for scouting is mostly carried out by ‘looking out of the tractor cab window’ or as a ‘freebie’ from agronomists, (always keen to sell). Scouting is inherently a visual exercise, as you can only record the pests, disease and deficiencies that you can see. Traditionally scouting was done with a note book and pen, recording the key dates such as bud break, flowering dates, verasion etc. However, technology is changing how we look at this.

To monitor effectively, multiple vines need to be assessed, but there is a limit to how much ground a scout can cover in a working day – consequently scouts use a pattern to achieve a representative sample. The patterns can be ‘W’ or ‘M’ across the vineyard, stratified, (sampling on an interval) using sentinel vines to repeatedly check on the same vine throughout the season, or randomised. Each has its pros and cons. Stratified sampling or sentinel vines in a truly uniform vineyard may be useful for measuring growth stage and yield, but less effective for disease/pest monitoring. W / M patterns make it difficult to get a true picture in irregularly shaped blocks, but (in my opinion) if carried out with a significantly large enough sample, randomised sampling provides the most effective representation. 

Clearly the majority of scouting is during the growing season with essential visits at the key phenological (E – L) growth stages and on or around climatic incidents, such as frost or rain. Any sensible vineyard manager will know the key weather conditions for fungal diseases and should scout for primary infection accordingly.

Originally the tools of the trade for a scout were clicker counters, hand lenses and sample bags, however technology has changed this. Remote sensing is now recognised as the next generation of vineyard scouting. 

There are several less laborious new(ish) technologies than walking your vineyard that are currently being used in established viticultural regions. Colour Infrared (IR) photography, Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, (NDVI) Enhanced Vegetation Index, (EVI) which can be linked with Geographic Information System (GIS) integrating hardware, software and data for capturing, managing, analysing and displaying information. These techniques have become a standard tool of effective vineyard management but come with a hefty price tag. Such mapping techniques are carried out by light aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, (drones) or satellite. These remote scouting techniques are effective for charting vigour variability, directing fertiliser inputs and counting missing vines, but down at microclimate level how effective are they at the ‘small stuff’ like spotted wing drosophila, grape trunk disease, etc?

As always, there is a compromise to find between reducing the number of measurements to lower the cost of data gathering while gaining sufficient data to get a reliable and representative picture. Remote sensing technologies are effective for mapping large areas of vineyards, but the uniqueness and spread of viticulture in the UK means that we don’t have distinct wine regions, (yet). Consequently, our industry is not quite ready for these systems. Intimate vineyard knowledge of layout, vigour variation and disease hotspots are essential for the vineyard manager – essentially there is no better way to scout your vines than ‘boots on the ground’.

There are many tools for gathering scouting information and the future is digital. There are many apps which will assist the grower to make better decisions. Examples include evineyard, (which records spray programs), GPS, (to track tractors and manage paperwork) or eviticulture, (which tracks vine performance from data input and produces reports to assist the grower).  Almost all of these apps and software are developed for established viticultural regions so often don’t provide the UK viticulturalist with appropriate detail. However, UK start up Vidacycle Sector Mentor for Vines (VSMV) is looking to provide a system that works for growers in any region. VSMV uses NFC technology with data collected for field operatives. This is uploaded via smart phone and the information is synced to a cloud into easy-to-read graphics.

To conclude: how you gather vineyard data and the longer you gather it for, the bigger the picture will be and you’ll soon be able to compare seasons, predict quality and yield and determine how you make those crucial decisions. 

Happy gathering!

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