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!

Industry growth revealed

Latest figures from the UK wine industry detail a record-breaking 2018 harvest, more land under vine than ever before, and a doubling in sales, both domestically and via export markets. Further substantial growth is also predicted over the next two decades.

A survey of the UK wine industry, conducted by its national association, Wines of Great Britain (WineGB), in conjunction with data analysts Wine Intelligence, confirmed that last year a record-breaking 15.6 million bottles were produced, 130% higher than the previous year’s crop in 2017 and far exceeding the previous record of 6.3m bottles in 2014. 

More production is forecast in the years to come as the acreage under vine is reported to have tripled since 2000 to 2,888 hectares (ha) under vine. Last year, acreages grew by 13% as 1.6 million vines were planted across 1,000 acres. In terms of distribution, the South East of England remains the largest area of vines, with plantings now totalling 2,189 ha and according to the report, 48% of the area under vine is managed by the ‘very large vineyards’ (over 18ha) whose average size now sits at 66.2 ha, up 6% from 2017.

A further two million vines are set to be planted this year. The report also shows that across the industry 28% of growers will be planting new vines over the next three years, with 67% of medium-sized producers (between three and 7.9 hectares) with plans to expand the vineyard. 

With a recent academic study from Alistair Nesbitt at Climate Wine suggesting that there are approximately 70,000 acres of land in the UK suitable for wine production, there remain plenty of opportunities for further expansion and the industry predicts that, at the current rate of growth, Great Britain will be producing 40 million bottles per year in the next 20 years.

This bodes well for the rural economy, as vineyard numbers grow and with it their workforce. Currently 2,000 people are employed within the industry, from vineyard workers to winemakers, administrative support and cellar door staff. Over the next 20 years the industry will create between 20,000 and 30,000 new jobs, showing not only the many future opportunities for labour creation and skills development in this sector but also providing a sizeable boost to the economy. 

Last year also saw significant growth in sales of English and Welsh wines as 2.6 million bottles were sold; a 186% increase on 2017. Of this total, 72% was sparkling wine, of which 75% came from the ‘very large vineyards’. 

Interestingly, the report suggests that large producers (between eight and 17.99 ha) are being out performed in sales by medium-sized vineyards. In the still category, large producers account for 9% of sales and medium 27%; in the sparkling category, large is 9% with medium 10%. 

These figures include sales from online, supermarkets, high street and independent retailers, restaurants and of course from the producers direct. In 2018 there was a clear increase in online sales and 71% of wine producers who don’t sell online are planning to sell wine through their websites soon. 

Exports also doubled in 2018 and while 80% of these were from the very large vineyards, 7% also came from medium-sized producers. The biggest export markets are currently the USA, mainly California, New York, Texas and Florida, and the Scandinavian countries Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland, which together receive 65% of total exports. WineGB expects that exports may account for 30-40% of the total wine produced in Great Britain by 2040, yielding a potential value of some £350 million per annum.

Helping to drive sales is wine tourism. While most visitors, 86%, are currently from the UK, there are many opportunities to attract more inbound visits through export activity in key markets. This year, clusters of vineyards in Britain are promoting their regions as go to places to visit, boosting the food, drink and hospitality industries across the country. Drawing on the experience of other established wine regions, by 2040 wine tourism in the UK could generate an additional revenue alone of £658m per annum. 

“Our latest survey acknowledges 2018 as a milestone year for the industry,” said Simon Robinson, Chairman of WineGB. “Our figures detail the considerable pace of growth taking place here in the UK and what exciting predictions and opportunities lie in the future. As a sector we are bringing many developments in agriculture, tourism, education, investment and employment. This is now a thriving and confident British industry in which we can be justifiably proud.”

The full report of the survey results
can be downloaded from the WineGB website. 

March From the editor

Following last month’s release of the 2018 official harvest figures, Wines of Great Britain (WineGB) has this month published its annual survey of the UK wine industry, see page 9.
Exports may only account for 8% of the industry’s total 2.6 million bottles sold, but having doubled in just one year (up 4% on 2017) proving that overseas markets are providing producers with exciting opportunities.
Interestingly, 43% of total exports find their way to the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Denmark, Sweden and also Finland. This hive of activity certainly corresponds to conversations I had in late February with Exton Park’s sales and marketing manager Kit Ellen, see my Editor’s Visit on page 20.
Monopolies on the sales of alcohol in the Nordic wine markets (Sweden, Finland, Norway and Iceland) make them rather unique and potentially difficult to infiltrate. Each country is slightly different, but with the off-trade centrally controlled by the government it is possible that there will be just one person responsible for buying wines under the English or Welsh category. Finding a good importer, who has established relationships with both the on- and off-trade in your desired market, is therefore vital.
Domestically, the market for English and Welsh wines is by no way saturated, but with reports that two million vines are predicted to be planted in 2019, we are not far off, especially in the traditional method English sparkling category. Anyone producing over 50,000 bottles per year would be wise to explore exporting; if only to ensure that we never reach this saturation conundrum.
Paperwork and administration may, or may not, change at the end of this month, but this should not put anyone off. Equally, for those who are wary of potential linguistic barriers, there are plenty of English speaking nations to approach first.
No matter where your wines are sold – the cellar door, the local wine merchants, a top London restaurant – it is always important to ensure the estate’s story is clearly presented on the bottle, social media and your website. This becomes even more crucial when sending wine around the world. Owners, winemakers, sales managers and brand ambassadors should all factor in at least two visits a year to each market to keep importers well trained and up-to-date with the estate’s latest developments.
We may not have a ‘name’ for our wines, but we do all have a story to tell and exporting is a wonderful way to spread this far and wide.

Vineyard expansion

For an existing vineyard looking to expand its growing operations, especially here in the South East, the options can initially appear limited. Having acted for Champagne Tattinger and its UK agency, Hatch Mansfield, to find a suitable site in Kent, we spent over a year searching on their behalf before introducing their new site at Chilham. Domaine Evremond, which was planted in 2017, promises to introduce 300,000 bottles per year of premium English sparkling wine. Continue reading “Vineyard expansion”

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