Exploring the research vineyard

Visitors to this year’s Fruit Focus show on 25 July were able to tour NIAB EMR’s concept vineyard with Dr Julien Lecourt, who offered a brief introduction to the numerous projects and trials being conducted in the UK’s only vineyard dedicated to research.

As well as looking at what is promising to be an impressive crop, those on the tour were able to see the vineyard’s new sprinkler system in action which has been installed in partnership with PlantexUK, as a method of frost protection.

The group were also able to assess growth on varieties such as Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon blanc, Riesling, Gamay and Chasselas which have been planted as part of a collaborative project with the University of Bordeaux to monitor climate change and global warming.

“Climate change is very gradual and slow,” said Julien Lecourt. “Vines are a very good indicator of climate change and in Bordeaux Merlot is already struggling. What we are seeing at the moment is not climate change, just weather. Heatwaves are not a big deal, they just happen. Here we are looking at long term trends and we are using mathematical modelling to be able to assess that.”

Having won a competitive bid funded by one of the EU’s largest research and innovation programmes, Horizon 2020, to investigate effective integrated weed management (IWM) in the vineyard, NIAB EMR has secured a new partnership with Clemens. The manufacturer’s under vine cultivator, which has been supplied by N P Seymour, was also on display in the vineyard with Julien on hand to talk through the alternative weed control methods.

“We have not been using herbicide in the vineyard for more than one year now,” said Julien. “We are trying to develop an environmentally sustainable vineyard, so we are using the Clemens machinery and have been using the double blade machine for the demonstrations. It is pretty efficient, and we are very happy so far. People say they can’t do without herbicide in the vineyard, but we are showing that yes, you can.”

In terms of managing the canopy, Julien has also secured a partnership with SCDS. The manufacturer, whose range of specialist trellis equipment products are available in the UK through Sussex-based Vineyard Supplies, has patented a unique spreader system to make wire lifting more efficient.

“Now we have the Ecatick spreaders in place we are able to move through a hectare of a vineyard in just three hours,” said Julien. “By comparison, it was taking us three days before to go through wire lifting by hand.”

The Ecatick spreader will allow growers to keep foliage wires at the desired height during the dormant season while enabling the shoots to be able to grow in between the wires, held open by the spreader, in the Spring. Once growth is well under way, the foliage wires can be closed in one swift movement, simply by applying pressure to the automatic closing spring, thus reducing the labour involved drastically. The system also offers greater consistency than wire lifting by hand as it ensures that the wires are brought up to the same height throughout the vineyard.

“We work directly with vine growers to develop our range of products,” said Hugues Billot at SCDC. “By working with NIAB EMR we can trial the Ecatick across a range of different trellising systems and varieties which they have in the research vineyard. Also, it is important to know how our products work when other machines, such as vine trimmers, are being used in the vineyard to make sure they do not cause an obstruction.”

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