Case Study: Successful vintner, Will Davenport, tells us how Sectormentor helps him harvest top quality grapes
Every year Will found himself struggling to keep on top of everything he needed to know in the run up to harvest to ensure they got the best quality grapes:
“The ripening process is different every year and choosing picking dates can be crucial to wine quality. I was keeping data on spreadsheets to monitor ripeness in each block, a time consuming process that ended up with a mass of numbers and dates.”
That all changed once he started using the Sectormentor Ripeness Indicator:
“Thankfully that has all changed with Sectormentor’s Ripeness Indicator – trends in sugar and acid are shown clearly in graph format and previous years can be easily compared – it’s all in one place and updated as soon as new information comes in. Last Autumn it was immediately obvious that our sugar levels weren’t increasing whilst acidity levels were dropping in certain blocks – we knew it was going to rain all week, so we were able to quickly make the decision to pick sooner in those areas and avoid increased disease pressure.
Everyone on the team helped gather the data and decision making felt effortlessly responsive. The data is accessible to all the key staff in the winery and vineyard. I feel confident we harvested just at the right time producing higher quality grapes as a result.”
For English Wine Week we want to highlight an important part of the growing English wine movement – the vineyards who are striving for a system which works with and for nature, not against it, without comprising the bottom line.
These vineyards are stripping back at every stage of the winemaking process: from growing the grapes in the vineyard more ecologically, to bottling the delicious product in the cellar using methods that were first employed around 6000 years ago, when the human race fell in love with wine. This takes lots of different forms, whether they are organic, biodynamic, ecologically produced, or a combination of the three. Here is a low-down from a few of the vineyards we work with to learn what they are doing to work with nature out in the vines.
(If you like your wine with minimal pesticides, chemicals, or preservatives added these are some of the vineyards you should be following.)
Photo: Davenport Vineyard Manager Phil Harris with pickers being driven back to the Cellar to process grapes.
“We believe the route to making the best wines is to work with nature and this begins with organic grapes. The fruit is a true expression of the grape variety and the soil it grows in.”
Will Davenport, Davenport Vineyards, Horsmonden, Kent
In 2000, Will Davenport made the decision to convert his vineyards to a Soil Association certified organic management system. Making this conversion can risk a loss of production in the short term, and many said it can’t really be done in soggy England, but it was a risk Will was willing to take in the name of an ecological system. It paid off, all the vines flourished, bringing beautiful grape quality and a depth of flavour which would be hard to achieve with the chemical inputs of a non-organic system.
The weeds are mown or removed by hand, the soil is fertilised with animal manure or plant waste compost and the vines are fed with homemade comfrey and nettle liquid. Most of the energy used on site is provided from solar panels, and they consider the footprint of all winemaking processes, from growing organic grapes, to recycled packaging, to local distribution. All their wines are organic and most are made in the winery with very little intervention, using a natural process. Davenport is one of the few natural winemakers in the UK: Natural wines have little to no sulphates and fining agents added to them when they are made and make use of the natural yeasts on the grapes, rather than adding in commercial yeasts.
One to try this week: Diamond Fields Pinot Noir 2016
2. Bride Valley Vineyard
“In the future I hope to see better weather and increased yields without losing quality. Being financially and environmentally sustainable is the goal for everyone in my opinion.”
Graham Fisher, Bride Valley Vineyard, Litton Cheney, Dorset
Bride Valley vineyard produce three varieties of english sparkling, from 10 hectares of vines. There first harvest was in 2014, with bottles selling out almost straight away!. . Graham, the vineyard manager who has been involved since the beginning, is responsible for managing the vines and ensuring the wine captures the essence of their chalky soils. His vision for the vineyard is one of minimum intervention and ecological harmony.
They plant a lot of phacelia and wildflowers to increase biodiversity and attract hoverflies, lacewings and parasitic wasps which keep brown apple moths under control amongst the vines. They are always looking for ways to move away from using herbicides, so to remove weeds that compete with the vines they have an undervine weeding tool as well as sheep to graze the grass down and add free fertiliser!
One to try this week: Rosé Bella 2014
3. Grange Estates
“I always really appreciated the historical importance and nobility of growing grapes and making wine. It’s a balance of hard graft, science and an almost artistic ‘feel’ for managing the vines.” (Quote from Furrowed)
Phil Norman, Grange Estates, Hampshire
At Grange Estates, four siblings came together to create a vineyard on a chalky sloped field which had been in an arable rotation for 150 years as part of their family farm. It is ideal for the 52,000 vines they planted, as it’s sheltered from the wind and south facing to the sun. They grow classic sparkling wine grape varieties, as their soil is akin to what you might find in the Champagne region of France.
To promote biodiversity and build soil health they are currently experimenting with three different cover crops running across the vineyard. In one third there’s a basic mix of 18 wildflower varieties which look stunning when they come out, as well as attracting natural predators for the local pests by providing them with a habitat. In the next third there is a carpet of herb rich meadow grass which is regularly mown; it stays think and dense, limiting compaction of the soil and is very easy to manage. The last third is a fescue and ryegrass mix.
This vineyard has some of our favourite residents: bees. There are about half a dozen beehives close to the vines, and the pollinators just love the wildflowers. After harvest at Grange Estates, you will encounter a 60 strong flock of sheep grazing amongst the vines. They are lawnmowers like no other, keeping the weeds down and perfectly chomping every blade of grass to equal length.
Bare soil directly under the vines encourages weeds to grow, but Phil’s got a plan for this: to plant golf course grass under all the vines, and use a mower and strimmers which can be mounted on the front of his tractor to mow the vineyard, pretty cool! Phil will assess which trials have worked well and bring a plan together which cuts out herbicides from the vineyard by 2019.
You can’t buy wine online yet from Grange Estates, contact them for more info.
4. Oxney Estate
“A sustainable and natural approach underpins the estate – from generating our own heat from coppiced wood chip through to a natural approach to disease control in the vineyard using wild herbs and plants.”
Kristin Sylvetnik, Oxney Organic Estate, East Sussex
Oxney is the largest organic vineyard in the UK. The sandy and silty soil are a fantastic basis for growing the 33 acres of vines. The vineyard recognises the value of their soil, and take many approaches to ensure it’s health and well being. Organic, green compost is added to the soil regularly to provide an environment for microorganisms and fungi in the soil to thrive.
They don’t use any herbicides, which jeopardize the life of the soil, instead opting for a mechanical cultivator and hand weeder. Keeping weeds down this way is a laborious process but key to the health of their vines and taste of their grapes. Wild plants and herbs are planted to help relieve the pressure of disease in the vineyard.
One to try this week: Estate Rosé – all the flavours of the English countryside!
5. Botley’s Farm
Hugo Stewart, Botley’s Farm, Salisbury
Finally a quick mention for a very special biodynamic vineyard, which has yet to produce any wines, but it is worth keeping an eye on their progress. Hugo and his old friend Paul set up and ran an organic & biodynamic vineyard in the western Languedoc for twelve years. He since returned to Wiltshire in 2016 and planted 4500 vines on a south facing chalky slope, all managed biodynamically. The grapes will be made into english sparkling, with the least intervention possible; you’ll have to wait until 2020 to try one of these!
It’s evident that vineyards can be a place of great biodiversity, lush havens for life above and below ground that produce a delicious fermented grape juice for us all to drink. Using technology and tools is a key part of helping these vineyards thrive, a combination of experience and good data can help to reduce dependency on chemical inputs to the vines. All these vineyards use our app Sectormentor for Vines to improve their productivity and ensure they grow quality grapes for quality wine. We’re committed to building tools to help vineyards manage their vines efficiently, to ensure their grapes are healthy and their management decisions have maximum impact. For more information don’t hesitate to contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org
While keeping up-to-date with vineyards across the globe on instagram we’ve come across an array of very important vineyard assistants who keep watch, control pests & weeds and nurture the soil & vines. This is an ode to all the furry, feathery and invertebrate friends who call a vineyard home.
The Vineyard Manager
Bacchus the vineyard dog runs a tight ship at Tuffon Hall Vineyard in East Anglia. They’ve been producing award winning english wines since 2014.
The Marketing Manager
Bacchus the vineyard cat knows his way around the winery, wine bar, wedding venue and 24,000 vines growing over 16 acres at Hidden Spring vineyard!
The Security Manager
Keeping watch over the beast from the East at Dallwood Vineyard in Devon. The 3,000 vines were planted in 2009/2010 by a group of local villagers with a collective dream to produce great English wines.
The Pruning Expert
Billy doesn’t miss a trick when it comes to pruning, here he is checking the vines are present and correct at Hattingley Valley Wines, who produce english sparkling in Hampshire.
Sunny morning in the vineyard with Billy 🐶 Beautiful day to work outside ✂️ #pruning #vineyard #winedog #hattingleyvalley #sunnyday #goodmorning #englishwine #dog #dogsofinstagram #hampshire #england #englishwinter #beautifulday #billy #vines #vineyardvines #wine #winelife #vineyardlife #winecountry
The Harvest Manager
Happy Harry is the resident vineyard dog at Broadley Vineyards, a family run winemaking business in the US with a sustainable focus.
The Grape Inspectors
It looks like Baci is in charge of quality control of these sustainably grown Pinot Noir grapes at Mirabel Vineyards in the Okanagan Valley, Canada.
A beautiful red admiral butterfly taking a closer look at organic grapes at Davenport Vineyards in Kent. Will Davenport has been growing vines since 1991 and also has a winery dog called Marvin!
A handsome vineyard dog at Humbleyard Vineyard in Norfolk checks on the white grape varieties before his human picks them from the vines. They have 10,000 vines covering 8 acres, plenty of space for a run about!
The Lawn Mowers
Tucked away down a Cornish lane near the coast you’ll find these two professional lawnmowers at Trevibban Mill Vineyard.
And then….. a whole flock of lawnmowers stampede into biodynamic vineyard Limeburn Hill, near Bristol. They take their jobs very seriously!
This year we invited sheep into the vineyard for the first time over winter, to help feed the soil and vines, to feed them up before lambing, and also to bring in an animal energy that we felt was missing in the vineyard. They are beautiful. #vineyardsheep #biodynamicvineyard #animalenergy #animalenergyvineyard
The Soil Gardeners
Very welcome little helpers: the long wigglers aren’t far behind the sheep at Limeburn Hill vineyard too.
The Pest Patrol
A group of majestic chickens on the hunt for rogue pests amongst biodynamic vines France.
The Cleaning Team
Chickens, pigs and vines living together in harmony at Hanzell Vineyards. They take a holistic and sustainable approach to preserve the health of their vineyard for future generations.
Chickens and pigs working together = happy and healthy vineyards. The pigs graze and root, helping to turn and aerate the soil. Then the chickens come behind and find the leftover upturned worms, bugs and other morsels while they scratch all the good stuff into the soil. As a result, our vineyards have never looked so beautiful. #hanzellfarm #integratedfarming #biofarm #nochemicalsneeded #chickentractors #vineyardpigs #vineyardchickens #hanzellvineyards #sonoma
The Heavy Lifter
Working horses tend to the earth at Costers del Priorat in Italy.
The Easter bunny!
Our little Easter bunnies are getting ready for our Easter open day this Saturday and are busy finding their hiding places on the vineyard! 🐰Children will love our bunny-run toy trail leaving you free to enjoy a glass of fizz, perfect 🥂Follow the link in our profile to book your tickets 🐣 #easter #easterbunnies #easterevent #easteropenday #childrenwelcome #toytrail #bunnyrun #winetasting #englishwine #englishsparklingwine #surrey #surreyhills #guildford
If we’ve missed any vital vineyard helpers let us know, there’s always space for a few more. If your vineyard helpers or you are interested in learning more about your vines talk to us about how to start monitoring data and analysing trends in vineyards. 🙂