In his first year as SEVA Chairman, Nick Wenman, with his usual dynamism, has achieved many of the goals that he set out when he took over from Chris Foss in 2017.
At the AGM, hosted by the Bolney Wine Estate in West Sussex, Nick outlined progress and steered the meeting through some constitutional changes, including the name change to WineGB South East, which was passed unanimously. A presentation of the results of a member’s survey showed support for a name change to be at 96%. As Nick pointed out, “SEVA isn’t necessarily a brand in itself, and vineyards in Sussex, Kent and Surrey are developing their own brand identities”. The survey also showed that 91% of members were in favour of the SEVA website being phased out and replaced by regional pages on the WineGB website. Kristina Studzinski, SEVA Deputy Chairman, and a lawyer before becoming a vine grower, led a group to review the constitution, and all the necessary changes were passed unanimously.
“So what’s the future for SEVA?” asked Nick. His vision is that the sharing of information on viticulture, oenology and marketing will be important for future success, so that’s what the regional associations will continue to do. “We will continue to organise formal and social forums to facilitate this. Personally, I would like to put more emphasis on marketing, especially wine tourism”, said Nick. To give added value to members, the popular bi-monthly newsletters would be continued. There would be more emphasis on support for new and smaller vineyard owners and there must be an active recruitment drive as a membership of 90 is far too small. Better communication with the WineGB press office was important and members were reminded to send through any ‘good news’ stories. The SEVA route map and mobile phone app had been well received, but in the light of all the changes, there would not be a reprint of the map as there will probably be a national scheme in future.
Study tour report
Luke Spalding of the Ridgeview Estate, who won the Vine Works Viticultural Scholarship in 2017, reported back on his travels to see North European fledgling viticultural industries. He concentrated on approaches to canopy management and cover crops in Belgium, the Netherlands and Sweden, and compared them with the Champagne region.
Several lessons from the different climate constraints in other countries can help us in the UK. In Belgium, excess humidity in the canopy put much emphasis on leaf-thinning and stripping. In Sweden, where there are now 100ha of vineyards, they are restricted to one powdery mildew spray per year, due to their pesticide regulations. Due to their summers having nearly 12 hours of daylight, they go from bud-break on 4 May to flowering on 29 May, so their canopy management and growing season is squeezed into a much shorter time than in the UK. Fruit- and shoot-thinning are necessary to reduce the canopy to give space to allow the few sprays that are allowed a chance to work. They are getting consistent yields of 2kg/vine from Solaris, but with a huge labour input.
Summarising his findings, Luke stressed that the timing of canopy management was vital, with the aim of directing energy into the canopy. You want to direct light and optimum temperature into the canopy, particularly from five days before bloom until 20 days after, both for this year’s crop and for bud-initiation for next year’s; and everything should be done before veraison. Ultimately the greatest effect on yield for both this year and next are the temperatures during flowering.
Leaf-stripping pre-bloom can beneficially change bunch architecture, but, of course, we can’t predict what will happen with the weather at flowering, so it is deemed to be too dangerous. However, leaf-stripping around the fruiting zone after flowering (10-14 days) is vital and can be done by machine followed by a manual leaf-strip just before veraison. Luke visited one vineyard in Belgium where they use extreme measures of one bunch per shoot and a few leaves only. This does produce very high sugars but certainly not high yield. Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD) is a pest that doesn’t like bright areas, so open canopies are a benefit. Belgium has had particularly bad problems with SWD in vines in the past few years. Another tip is to leaf-strip on the east side, to maximise the light penetration, instead of on the west side, which can cause sunburn on the grapes. The costs of leaf-stripping have caused some to question whether it is worthwhile. Luke presented some excellent examples that suggested that for £1000 spent on labour a grower will achieve a one tonne increase in yield and that could mean £1,300 more revenue.
Harvesting green ensures that bunches are of homogeneous quality, in terms of sugar/acid balance in the berries. However, Luke warns that if you try to fix problems after veraison it is too late. Also, some winemakers are seeking more malic acid, so discussion between winemaker and vineyard manager is important. All will want clean fruit with no Botrytis.
The use of cover crops is the subject that really opened Luke’s eyes to what he believes we should be doing in the UK. Many vineyards that he toured, particularly in Champagne, reduced herbicide costs by using cover crops or mulches to restrict weeds and vine-growth. Rotation is the key and helps with biodiversity in the vineyard, said Luke. In the alleyways wild natural weeds are encouraged, but mown before flowering, or flower mixes using red clover, and even deep-rooted vegetables like radish, to open the soil, mixed with ryegrass, cocksfoot and tall fescue grasses. In the rows the under vines, mulches can comprise prunings, wood chips, green waste or straw.
Luke’s next move is to start his Masters at Plumpton College. He will be carrying out a leaf-stripping trial all the way to the winery to sort out the effects on phenolic ripeness, and he has plans to visit Austria and Tasmania. His parting message after his study tour was the question: “Are we planting Champagne varieties outside the South East to no point?”
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