It’s that time of year when vineyard managers turn their thoughts to the importance and benefits of opening up and controlling the canopy as early as possible.

It’s widely known that good ventilation in the fruiting zone reduces the risk of Botrytis and other fungal diseases, improves spray targeting and efficacy, and also increases the berries’ exposure to sunlight, leading to the development of better colour in red fruit and aromas.

A study on the impact of leaf removal from Oregon State University also proved that mechanical defoliation was just as effective as hand leaf thinning, with both methods having the same results on the vine and overall fruit.

With this in mind, when it comes to canopy management, it is not surprising that there has been a surging demand for mechanical defoliators and vine trimmers in the last five years or so.


German manufacturer ERO has long offered growers a range of high-quality leaf removal tools including the Elite, the ‘suck and pluck’ roller defoliation method, and VITIpulse, the pneumatic air blast method.

Wanting to combine these two technologies ERO developed the VITIpulse Combi – a defoliator with rollers to strip from the exterior and air to get right into the centre of the canopy.

Having greatly increased its canopy management client base over the years, viticultural contracting firm SJ Barnes, which now completes around 400ha of contract defoliation work each year across Kent, Sussex and Surrey, invested in the ERO VITIpulse Combi a few seasons ago to sit alongside the firm’s existing ERO Elite defoliator.

With the VITIpulse Combi, more targeted defoliation results can be achieved as the roller removes the external leaves, which then allows the air blast to better penetrate through to the inner part of the canopy.

“The VITIpulse Combi really lends itself to still wine production because you are exposing the fruit and blowing away trash and debris so that the grapes are kept clean, allowing for longer hanging times and riper berries,” said Sam Barnes, owner of SJ Barnes. “It is particularly useful for Bacchus too as the air blast system can remove the flower caps which so often lead to Botrytis.”

One key benefit of the VITIpulse Combi is that it allows for flexible use of the two defoliation systems. Operators can choose to combine the use of both systems or run them individually and independently of each other. According to Sam, what method the growers choose to operate for the best canopy management results will greatly depend on the season.

Vine trimmers

The ERO defoliators all sit on a common front-mounted mast system, which can also be used to mount the ERO Elite vine trimmer.

Described by many growers as one of the easiest to operate vine trimmers on the market, the ERO also benefits from specially designed cutter blades which are shaped to ensure a surgical cut and reduce wire damage.

With several sites planted in East and West Sussex, Roebuck Estates’ vineyard manager Jake Wicks explained why he chose a double-sided ERO Elite vine trimmer.

“I had heard really good things about the ERO vine trimmer from Sam Barnes and I was also keen to use NP Seymour as they’re the local dealership,” said Jake. “The ERO is very user-friendly compared to the other brands I have used before. It’s also really straightforward to get the trimmer on and off the tractor.”

The trimmers are operated by a joystick with light-touch action and have a split control box for better positioning in the cab.

As the vineyard has a New Holland tractor, a special front-mounted bracket was made by NP Seymour, along with some work on the hydraulic system.

“It has all been really well set up,” said Jake. “Engineering is something which NP Seymour does really well. They provide a great service, and everything is always really well produced.”

Vine trimmers are not just viable for large sites either. When White Castle Vineyard owners Robb and Nicola Merchant were ready to upgrade from a handheld hedgecutter, they opted for a BMV single-sided trimmer from NP Seymour to use on their 10 acre site in Wales.

“The BMV saves us about 60 hours’ work, which can be better spent looking after other more important areas of the business,” said Robb.

Having done extensive research before purchasing the BMV, Robb said that his final decision was based not just on price but also on what would be most suitable for the vineyard in the long term.

“The reason I chose the BMV is because we will at some point look to invest in a defoliator which will fit on the same mounting bracket and will use the same control panel and hydraulic set-up,” said Robb. “NP Seymour were pretty responsive, quick and accommodating to any questions. I spoke to Nick Seymour about measurements for our tractor and he built a bracket for the front. Despite being so far away, ordering from them was really easy right the way through.”

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