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September 2019

Case study: Luke Spalding – Everflyht Vineyard

Case study: Luke Spalding – Everflyht Vineyard 2000 1333 Sectormentor

Join us for a walk around a beautiful spot in East Sussex, a 2.6-hectare vineyard run by data lover Luke Spalding. The vines are fairly new, they’ve been in the ground for 4 years and will be producing at full potential in the next year or two. Another 4.5 hectares of vines are due to be planted in May 2021, and the aim is to consistently produce 6-8 tonnes of grapes a hectare in the future. Currently the wine is made at Hambledon, where Luke has built a great working relationship with Felix the winemaker there, the first wines will be released 2021.

The vineyard is 74m above sea level and the site has its challenges; such as extreme south west winds and severe late spring frosts due to its proximity to the South Downs. Luke told us “This is why I wanted the job, if I can deal with these challenges and learn to produce a great crop then I know I am doing something right!”.

The field was previously used for grazing livestock and hay making, so the soil is rich in nitrogen but has an imbalance of magnesium and potassium. This is a blessing and a curse in the Pinot Meunier variety; as it saves on some fertilisers but creates other problems with necrosis on the berries and buds.

Luke spends a lot of time scouting in the vineyard for issues, making observations and recording them with his Sectormentor for Vines phone app. His passion for data started when he was at Ridgeview Wine Estate; he helped monitor links between the number of seeds in a berry, berry size and climatic values that increased berry size and development. In a Californian grape grown to maturity the average is three to four seeds per grape, but how many seeds do English grapes generally have? Luke decided to sample 250 berries across every block in the vineyard, counting seeds to calculate the average seed count per berry for each block, observing how well the fruit had matured. He found there are often only 2 seeds on average in an English grape, a sign the grapes do not fertilise as well as those across the pond. This is because we just don’t have enough sunny growing days over here!

Pre veraison Luke and his assistant Tom recorded bunch counts with the Sectormentor for Vines app to start making an early yield prediction and decide if they need to remove any bunches from the vines to optimise yield and grape quality. They checked the bunch count data displayed by block on their Sectormentor for Vines account and decided to take off quite a few bunches post flowering, which are left on the ground to return fertility to the soil.

Once grapes have been thinned out they will go through and count bunches again to understand how many were actually dropped and update their yield prediction. All this data can be put into the Sectormentor for Vines app so they can observe and understand trends in how their bunch counts are evolving and what their yield might be.

Post veraison, berries grow rapidly in size, generally due to Autumn sunshine causing sugar to build up in the grapes. Luke monitors berry weight to see the impact from different weather patterns and other variables. As it turns out, hot and sunny weather during the growing season is not necessarily what causes dramatic increases in berry size; it is actually a heavy rainfall event in the run up to harvest which makes a huge difference!

We got the low down from Luke: “If you have 10 bunches per vine and each one increases by 10g due to rain, each Ha has 4,132 vines and the site has 10ha that’s an extra 4,132kg. It all adds up!”

As Everflyht is a new vineyard, there are some younger vines which aren’t yielding yet. Luke monitors younger vines, along with dead and missing vines, so he can take them out of his yield prediction, ensuring it is accurate. Luke also keeps track of frost damage and wind scorch by recording incidences on Sectormentor for Vines, so he’s able to stay on top of the problems and make any necessary management changes. He sprays seaweed straight onto frost damaged buds within 24 hours – this does an amazing job helping them recover! He’s also trying a biodynamic treatment of silica to help with wind scorch. This improves cell walls and leaf thickness to make the vines more resilient to the prevailing wind, as well as powdery mildew.

“I use Sectormentor for Vines as a Barometer of how the vine has developed, how many buds have burst, how many shoots do I have, how many clusters do I have and what do we need to drop. That information tells me if I have a problem like necrosis, if I have to shoot thin or if I need do a green harvest.” – Luke Spalding, Everflyht Vineyard

By monitoring bud counts, shoot counts and cluster counts with Sectormentor for Vines, Luke gets a good idea for how the vines are doing and if there are any issues. For example, if he does a bud count and then a shoot count, and finds only 60% of the buds have shoots, he knows there is a problem with necrosis or blind buds and can make a decision on how to manage this in the future. 

Growing degree days for a season also provide helpful and informative data for Luke; from several years of monitoring he has found anything higher than -70 GDD in March means bud burst will happen in the first week of April. As Luke points out, “In a cooler climate where everything is so marginal this type of data is really important and can make a huge difference to successful vineyard management.”

We’re excited to continue following Luke’s journey; if you’d like to hear more about what he is up to read this blog post on trialling cover crops, mulching and biodiversity at Everflyht Vineyard.

 


Find out more about monitoring your vines with Sectormentor and get in touch here if you have any questions.

Chalk House Vineyard

Know your Vines #8: See patterns in how your grapes are ripening & predict your harvest date earlier

Know your Vines #8: See patterns in how your grapes are ripening & predict your harvest date earlier 2000 1333 Sectormentor

In our Know your Vines blog series we share practical tips on what metrics to monitor in your vineyard. This is the eighth instalment, stay tuned for more as the seasons unfold! “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.


Monitor grape sugar and acidity to get the balance just right – all made easier with our Grape Ripeness Indicator Tool

As we get closer to harvest, life is getting sweeter for grapes! They are beginning to ripen, which means sugars are generally increasing whilst acidity is dropping. Many vineyards monitor sugar and acidity levels as harvest approaches to help them decide when to start picking. Of course, this is not purely a science, as we are looking to make delicious wine, so tasting the grapes is a key part of the equation. It’s the combination of the art of taste, and the science of sugar and acidity levels that helps ensure you have a smooth well-timed harvest for each block in the vineyard.

Vines at Rathfinny Vineyard

Monitoring sugar and acidity levels
Post veraison, vineyard managers/winemakers regularly monitor the sugar and acidity levels of grapes across the vineyard. A refractometer is used to measure grape sugar, giving a Brix or Oechsle reading. Titratable acid, the total acid content in grape juice, is important for balancing a wine and is measured by neutralising the grape juice with an alkaline solution. It’s important to take a representative sample of grapes when measuring these and to use the same juice for both tests to get a real understanding of the sugar to acid ratio.

These are two of the ten key metrics to monitor in the vineyard. Sectormentor for Vines makes it quick and easy to record all this information and share it with the vineyard and winemaking team so they can see what is happening with the grapes.

Chalk House Vineyard

Veraison at Chalk House Vineyard

Using the Sectormentor Grape Ripeness Indicator Tool
When you record sugar and acidity readings using Sectormentor for Vines, we automatically plot them on a graph. This makes it easy to see how the ripening is progressing, as it’s not always linear. Weather events have a big impact on ripening and it is helpful to see this displayed graphically.

Davenport Vineyards sugar and acidity levels for different varieties in 2018

Every block with a different variety, clone and rootstock behaves differently, so with this data you may start to see patterns and relationships between blocks. In the graph above you can see how the sugar and acidity levels vary for each variety, and the difference in how quickly each one ripens. Will, at Davenport Vineyards, can use this information to plan when to harvest each variety and the graph is easy to share with his team.

Davenport Vineyards comparison of sugar and acidity levels year on year for a single variety

By comparing ripeness data year on year for the same block it’s possible to identify patterns particular to each block. How long does ripening tend to take for this block? Is this year similar to 2016? Comparing to other similar years will also help you predict harvest dates based on the ripening trajectory.

Are you already using Sectormentor for Vines to monitor sugar and acidity? Log into your Sectormentor account online to try our updated Grape Ripeness Indicator. You’ll find it in the ‘Tools’ section – let us know what you think!


Find out how Sectormentor for Vines helps you record data & manage your vines for the best quality grapes: get in touch here or check out 10 key metrics to monitor in your vineyard.