The vine post

A scout’s tale.

The role of a vineyard technical scout is essentially to spot any disease as early as possible so action can be taken to avoid its proliferation. However, as every vineyard site is different so are the requirements of every vineyard owner. 

Many of our customers require more than simply just scouting. In many cases we are responsible for wider aspects of vineyard management: this can include everything from setting the specification for tasks in the vineyard, building a suitable spray programme in consultation with agronomists to harvest planning and logistics. As we all know, 2019 has been a tricky year for grape growers, particularly the latter part of it as unfavourable conditions meant high disease pressure.

Scouting for disease

The early signs of powdery and downy mildew can be difficult to spot, particularly for somebody who is new to the industry and has not seen them outside of textbooks. As you can’t realistically scrutinise every vine in your vineyard, (although whoever carries out the tractor operations in the vineyard gets a good chance!) it’s best to start your search in the area where infection is most likely to occur first. If you speak to anybody who has been managing a site for several years they will normally be able to tell you more or less exactly where mildew infection will start. Without the benefit of this knowledge, I start in the areas of the vineyard with the least air-flow and most amount of shade.

Yield estimates

This was not a simple task this year – an awkward spell of hot and cold weather pre-flowering caused variable flowering success in some sites which resulted in variable bunch sizes. Coupled with rain late in the season which caused significant bunch swell and also significant levels of botrytis, there were a lot of factors to consider. Ultimately, nobody really knows how much fruit is there until it comes off the vine. The goal is to get as close as possible so a plan can be put in place for the destination of the grapes and the amount of pickers needed.

Harvest planning

There are many issues to deal with during the lead up to harvest. Other than determining the date the fruit will be ready for picking, all the tools needed to pick the fruit have to be on-site in advance, (picking crates, buckets, snips etc). To pick on a particular date, the labour will need to be secured, the winery will need to agree to receive the fruit and transport to the winery will need to be arranged. This can become a negotiation between the parties involved and a vineyard technical scout may have to mediate in such a way that the outcome works for everybody. 

Record keeping

Vine-Works Ltd use SectorMentor to record and store all vine-related information that comes out of the vineyard, from winter charge counts to yield estimates, harvest figures and simple photographic records. With this system it means that anybody involved in the vineyard has easy access to the information and it allows for Vine-Works Ltd management to offer a second opinion on the data collected. The main benefit from a scouting point of view is that data can be viewed in graphical form and referred back to in future years to help inform vineyard decisions.

Now that the dust has settled on an intense harvest period it is time to step back, reflect and plan for next year. It has been an exciting experience to be involved in the running of established vineyards and also to learn about the unique characteristics of new vineyards that are just starting their journey. The first step for next year begins with a soil sample.

> Matt Strover

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