Vine Monitoring

Reducing inputs: cover crops, mulching and biodiversity with Luke Spalding at Everflyht Vineyard

Reducing inputs: cover crops, mulching and biodiversity with Luke Spalding at Everflyht Vineyard 2000 1333 Sectormentor

Luke is running fascinating trials at Everflyht Vineyard, which we had the pleasure of seeing when we visited in August 2019. He sees the positive management of ecology as an investment in the long-term health of the vineyard. Improving soil carbon and biodiversity kick-starts natural cycles, building healthy soil which supports healthy vines, and healthy vines require fewer inputs. We love to see a vineyard working with nature in this way!

Reducing herbicides with under vine mulching
Luke is exploring an alternative weed control to herbicides; he hand weeded several rows in May and laid out straw under the vines as a mulch layer. The straw suppresses and smothers out weeds, as they are shielded from light and air. It’s working well, although there are a few drawbacks – the straw is expensive and it’s time consuming doing the initial weeding and laying it out. The straw they tried this year is specially formulated by Leeds University; it is infused with iron, magnesium and a natural slug repellent. One herbicide application is still required at the end or the beginning of the season, but this is a good reduction from the 2-3 applications in rows without straw mulch (which also have a healthy crop of thistles underneath!). Luke feels this method has great potential, particularly if the cost of straw can be reduced and if the weed burden gets lighter and lighter each year in the mulched rows as is predicted.

Mulching straw also benefits soil health under the vines, as it covers the soil which prevents soil moisture from evaporating (particularly useful if you’re in a drier, hotter climate). It provides a source of organic matter as it gradually decomposes, which stimulates and feeds the microbial community in the soil which in turn release nutrients for the vines to take up. Applying any herbicides or chemicals disrupts microbial activity, and so making an effort to reduce these inputs helps the natural cycles to start working with you. 

Encouraging biodiversity and soil health with cover crops
In between the rows Luke seed drilled a deep rooting cover crop of red clover, buckwheat, phacelia, cocksfoot grass and ryegrass. The phacelia sprung up tall, dramatically increasing the number of pollinators to the point where two bee hives have naturally formed on the outskirts of the vineyard in old rabbit warrens! The original seed mix only had 20% grasses but they turned out to be very vigorous growers, out competing nearly all the other plants in the mix. Luke mows the grass strips in between the vines every 2-3 weeks and the cuttings are discharged out from the sides of the mower and straight under the vines, creating a green mulch on the soil (and adding to the straw mulch where this is being trialled). Read this paper about floor management and how green mulch is can improve fruit set!

Although cocksfoot grass is great as the roots go down around 40cm Luke plans to reseed the cover crop mix in between the vines to regain the plant diversity he had before, adding red clover, phacelia and buckwheat back in. This is important for attracting beneficial insects and helps build soil health too. A diverse range of roots will stimulate the soil biology which generally improves soil structure. Deeper rooting plants in the cover crop mix are great for breaking up compacted areas of soil. A diverse and deep root system opens up new channels for water and air to percolate down through the soil profile and be stored for uptake by the vines in dryer periods and helps turn the subsoil from anaerobic to aerobic. This all helps to improve drainage, which has been a big challenge at the site. Luke’s diverse plantings don’t stop at in between the vines, he is using a similar cover crop mix to prepare a 4.5 hectare site to be planted up with vines in 2021. This invests in improving soil health, as legumes fix nitrogen and there is lots of root to soil interaction, sequestering carbon, getting all the great microbial and fungal life going before the new vines go in.

Reducing pesticides with buffer strips
Phacelia is abundant in buffer strips along the sides of the vineyard, which attracts a healthy population of pollinators and beneficial insects. At the moment Luke monitors the insects that pose a threat to his crop, but he’d like to monitor beneficial ones in the future too. Then he could see how the populations buffer each other, and if they are in balance.

Luke sets traps to catch one of the insects he would rather not have – the brown apple moth. If there are more than 14 moths in the trap in a month period he usually sprays the vines to reduce them and 11 has been the highest count so far. It’s great he hasn’t had to spray this season, which could be due to them being predated by bees, wasps and hoverflies attracted by the buffer strips. If you’re reading this and you manage a vineyard, have you also seen reduced brown apple moth pressure this year?

Using techniques to encourage plant and insect diversity, improve carbon sequestration and build soil health are all ways you can take a more regenerative approach to managing a vineyard. There are some fairly quick wins with implementing practises like cover crops and straw mulching, but for the most part they are part of a much longer term strategy. A strategy that builds up natural resilience in the vineyard to pest pressure, disease risks, and changing climate, while reducing the need for intervention with chemicals that disrupt nature from doing its thing!


Interesting in learning more about applying regenerative approaches in your vineyard? Read this case study about Johan Vineyards and/or get in touch with us.

Know your Vines #9: Record harvest weights and analyse yield performance with our Harvest Tool

Know your Vines #9: Record harvest weights and analyse yield performance with our Harvest Tool 4032 3024 Sectormentor

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


I heard it through the grapevine, not much longer ‘til grapes turn to wine

As we enjoy the welcome Autumn sunshine the grapes are doing their last bit of ripening. Months of hard work in the vineyard and efforts to optimise yield and fruit quality culminate in this moment; harvest time! What will your yield be? Is it in line with your prediction? Monitoring the yield for each block will not only tell you how close your prediction is but also inform your pruning technique and how you care for the vines going into the next season.

How to monitor yield

The best way is to keep collection trays from different blocks separate when you’re harvesting, and weigh them separately, recording the total amount picked in each block each day in Sectormentor for Vines. This makes it possible to compare numbers for individual blocks, so you know how each one is doing, and can adopt relevant management actions.

Using the Harvest Tracker

The Harvest Tracker aims to be interesting both during and after harvest. During the harvest, as you record the amount picked per block each day you can see the total amount harvested and how that has progressed through the harvest season.

This gives you a simple overview of how the harvest team are getting on and how your yield is moving forward.

Looking at the amount picked for each block or variety lets you quickly see how much fruit was picked so far (during the harvest) or in total (after the harvest). This is useful both in real time as the harvest is coming in to understand how much has been picked and how much is left to pick in particular blocks, as well as after harvest to help understand the profitability of each block or variety.

The yield per hectare/acre lets you compare the productivity of each block and gives you an understanding of how each variety, rookstock and clone performed this year. You can quickly spot if there are any problem blocks and decide on actions to take for the next season.

Knowing your yield per unit area also allows you to benchmark yourself against other vineyards, and can often be a better indicator if it was a good or bad cropping year.

Once your harvest weights are recorded and harvest is all done you can sit back and reflect on it all. Which blocks performed well? How efficient was harvest this year? How many tonnes per hectare were picked? With the Harvest Tracker on Sectormentor for Vines you can answer all these questions.

Are you already using Sectormentor for Vines to monitor kilograms picked? Log into your account online to try our new Harvest Tool. 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.

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.

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.

Case Study: Dan Rinke & Ian Nelson – Johan Vineyards

Case Study: Dan Rinke & Ian Nelson – Johan Vineyards 4032 3024 Sectormentor

Acclaimed vintner, Dan Rinke, tells us how he uses the Vine Health Indicator to manage his 90 acre biodynamic vineyard:

“I know if my cane weights are lighter I need to apply heavier compost, or run animals in that part of the vineyard to get the biology and nutrition cycling better. Now I’m using Sectormentor it’s very quick to compare how they change year on year and it’s immediately visualised which makes it easy for me to make the best decisions for the long term health of the vines.”

Dan Rinke, Johan Vineyards, USA

Johan Vineyards is owned by Dag Johan Sundby, a Norwegian immigrant who headed to the Williamette Valley, Oregon, USA in 2004 to establish the 85 acre Johan estate vineyard. In 2007 Dan Rinke became vineyard manager there, and under Dan’s direction, within 3 years the vineyard became biodynamically certified. It is an exceptionally beautiful spot in the Van Duzer Corridor AVA – plentiful hot days and very cool nights thanks to the winds coming through the corridor from the coast.

Being a biodynamic vineyard they have 30 acres set aside as a biodiversity preserve, which includes majestic virgin oak savannah and biologically active riparian zones, plus beautiful lakes and ponds. The air is alive with birds and butterflies. As it says on Johan Vineyard’s website, “Steiner outlined a unified approach to agriculture that relates the ecology of the earth-organism to that of the entire cosmos. Much like Steiner, we see our vineyard as an individual organism that will eventually showcase its own identity through the fruit it develops.”

Dan is a hugely inspiring farmer, he has a clear understanding of the ‘why’ behind everything and is able to marry the somewhat esoteric recommendations of biodynamics and explain it as practical grounded insights. Ian Nelson, their budding new vineyard manager, has been working with Dan for the last 8 months and is now doing much of the viticultural management on a day-to-day basis. They are continually experimenting with different techniques and practices to build a more resilient and ecological vineyard, they showed us three of their current trials which we wanted to share far and wide!

1..At Johan they practice minimal soil disturbance to enable the fungal networks to prosper and retain as much carbon in the soils as well. This means all the rows have a healthy cover of grasses and herbal mixes, though they do still do undervine cultivation to keep weeds under control there. In order to experiment with cover crops between rows, they have planted different pollinator mixes. As Dan explains, “We did the flowering reseeding annual/perennial mix in the tasting room block to increase the diversity of cover crops used in the vineyard and to add more forage for native pollinators.”

2..They cut out old wood last winter from the surrounding hedgerows and have turned them into woodchip piles, located at different sites around the vineyard. The aim of the piles is to foster more fungal diversity in the vineyard – all based on the principle that greater diversity will keep any problematic fungi in check and not allow fungal disease to set it.

3..The third experiment is planting elderberry in place of dead vines in an area with particular difficulty. The elderberry is able to form both ecto and endo-mycorrhizal associations – Dan explains exactly why this is important, “We are interplanting with elderberry (we also plan to plant some shrubby native willows this fall) because they have associations with both Endomycorrhiza and Ectomycorrhizas. Endomycorrhiza is the type of mycorrhiza that grape vines have an association with, but Ectomycorrhizas are what have been proven to work like a network – sharing minerals, nutrients, water, carbon and plant hormones between different plant species. So the plants with dual species associations, such as elderberry and willows, are what I call “hub species”. Think of the airline maps with some major airports being the hubs. It’s nice to fly direct to your destination but sometimes you have to fly to a hub airport to get to the final destination, this is just more efficient for the airline companies. The same is true for sharing needed nutrients in an ecological system. The hub species make it possible to link the two networks together.”

One of the reasons Dan started using Sectormentor at Johan is because he is transitioning out of doing some of the day-to-day vineyard management as Ian takes it on and using Sectormentor makes things quicker and easier for both of them. Ian nips around the vineyard on his little quad bike using the map on the Sectormentor app to take him to the different sample sites or blocks he needs to visit that day (Ian is still learning the vineyard, so the map is super helpful as he zips from clone to clone!)

Johan is planted with a number of different varietal-clone combinations on small 1-2 acre plots. These management blocks are used to ensure that each part of the vineyard is well cared for and they know exactly what is going on. We have seen time and time again, that vineyards that focus on smaller management blocks are more successful in farming ecologically and profitably.

When it comes to yield predictions and management decisions, Johan have a strong focus on data to help them make informed management decisions. Ian is relatively new to the vineyard but thanks to Sectormentor he can easily see the variety, clone, rootstock of each location. Once Ian has gone out and done the % flowering, or cluster count etc at each site, that data is all immediately available on Sectormentor so Dan and Ian can check in back at the office and see how the different blocks are progressing, as well as update initial yield predictions and harvest dates. For Dan the biggest advantage of Sectormentor is that he can easily visualise changes year on year – such as visualising the changes in cane weights and number of short shoots in different blocks – he told us that in his experience that information is key to making the best management decisions.

In the early days of Johan a few plots of the vineyard were leased out — but they will finally come back into Johan management next year. Dan and Ian are very excited to have the final plot of vines coming back into management by Johan themselves. This plot has been managed chemically for years – Dan will immediately start transitioning it to a biodynamic plot but it inevitably takes some time as the soil must recover and become truly alive once again. The team are very keen to see and document how the soil does change through this transition, so Dan and Ian will use some of the key soil health tests – VESS, slake, invertebrate counts, infiltration rate to track how alive the soil is and how it evolves.

When we visited we were lucky enough to be taken on a tasting journey through all of their wines, with winemaker Morgan – my oh my, if you ever get the chance to try a Johan Wine you are in for a treat. All that hard work in the vineyard definitely pays off, the wines are beautiful, natural wines that reflect the beauty of the complex, increasingly diverse ecosystem from which they have sprung

We’re excited to keep learning about regenerative vineyard management with Johan Vineyards!

If Sectormentor for Vines sounds interesting to you do get in touch here.

Know your vines #7: How to optimise your yield prediction and the power of the Yield Predictor Tool – PART 2

Know your vines #7: How to optimise your yield prediction and the power of the Yield Predictor Tool – PART 2 5184 3456 Sectormentor

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


Use bunch weights at lag phase and veraison to optimise yield prediction

In part 1 we looked at optimising your yield prediction by getting accurate bunch counts. As we move through the season there is more information available to us, allowing for our yield predictions to be optimised even further. Part 2 of yield optimisation starts with weighing actual bunches in lag phase, or at veraison, and then again at regular intervals in the run up to harvest. Last-minute losses due to disease can also be taken into account at this stage. Many thanks to Luke Spalding at Chalk House Vineyard for sharing his tips and tricks for getting a good yield prediction.

Third prediction: Weigh bunches at lag phase or veraison
For the next step of your yield prediction it is time to start weighing your bunches! This can be done at lag phase, or veraison. Weighing bunches at this stage you get a better idea of what the bunch weight will be for each varietal this year. Theoretically lag phase is about 55 days after 50% flowering*. In fact, this is one reason why recording 50% flowering is important – so you can identify when lag phase will happen.

*This is based on studies done with Pinot Noir in Oregon State. In more variable cool climates, like the UK, due to the stop-start growing season impacting both flowering and grape berry development stage II (lag phase), the number of days can vary much more (It’s important to always be observing!).

The lag phase prediction method is often thought to be the most accurate when done correctly, however as Chalk House vineyard manager Luke Spalding explained, “For many people the best time to start weighing bunches is veraison – it’s easy to see when that is, so you don’t have to worry about counting the number of days since 50% flowering for each varietal. The issue is that for some vineyards, waiting until veraison is too late, they need to be able to get a more accurate yield prediction as early as possible.”

Whether you choose to start measuring actual bunch weights at lag phase or veraison, the method is very similar. You need to go out and randomly select as many bunches as is reasonable from each block (Luke recommends 15-25 bunches per 1000 vines for smaller vineyards). We have seen a number of different methods used by different vineyard managers to select random bunches in a bay. Two options are:

  1. Select a mix of 1st, 2nd (and 3rd bunches if you have them)
  2. Select every other bunch in one random bay

Once you have selected your bunches from the block, you are now ready to weigh your bunches. You just need an average bunch weight, so if you know how many bunches you picked, then you can weigh them all together and divide the total weight by the number picked to get the average.

Use the bunch weight multiplier

Yield prediction calculation using bunch weights and multiplier

The rule of thumb is that in a ‘normal’ year, your bunches will increase in weight by a factor of 1.65-1.9. We call that number the weight multiplier.  The multiplier differs for lag phase and veraison.

At this point you start to really optimise your yield prediction to be much more accurate. This is the first time you have got a real idea of the bunch weights for this year. Go to the yield predictor tool, enter in the average bunch weights for each block, and adapt the multiplier to ~1.65 for veraison weights, or ~1.8 for lag phase weights. Of course getting the multiplier right is key, which is why it’s important to measure bunch weights at lag/veraison each year, and then again at harvest. This allows you to understand the weight multiplier for each of your varietals/clones. If you don’t have any previous data then using a weight multiplier of around 1.65 (veraison) or 1.8 (lag phase) initially is a good place to start.

Optimising yield prediction year on year
With the yield predictor tool you can now compare how this prediction compares to your previous prediction, and you can easily see the total predicted weight for the vineyard as well as the predicted yield for each block. In the previous prediction you were using average weights, now you are using actual weights from this year with a multiplier – does it look too high or too low? If things are looking exceedingly good this year, then maybe do another yield prediction with a weight multiplier of 2 – for example the harvest of 2019 in the UK people were seeing weight multipliers of 2 or more from veraison to harvest, but that was of course a very unusually prolific year. Also there can be considerable variation between different varietals when it comes to the weight multiplier, so if you do have past years data then it’s best to customise the weight multipliers for each block based on the history at your site.

Fourth prediction: Include last minute losses due to disease/pest pressures

Yield prediction calculation including potential loss from Botrytis

To see how things are progressing you can go out and weigh more bunches 4 weeks after veraison. How have the bunches developed? How much bigger will they get by harvest?

Of course there can be unforeseen issues with disease pressure in the final weeks. This is easily accounted for in the yield predictor by adding in what % of the crop you have lost due to the problem. This will update your yield prediction estimates in the final stages of your yield prediction journey.

Weigh bunches at harvest
It is key to measure the average bunch weight at harvest and enter that into Sectormentor too. You can either go and pick random bunches on the morning of harvesting a particular block, or you can harvest the sample bays from each block before harvesting the rest of each block (you have already counted the number of bunches for sample bays so you can easily work out the average bunch weight by weighing all the bunches that are harvested from that bay).

This number of average bunch weight at harvest is vital so that in future years you can figure out what the actual veraison-harvest weight multiplier is for each block in your vineyard. It also helps to get a very good idea of your average harvest bunch weight for a particular block over many years, so that those early predictions that rely on this weight become more and more accurate.

It’s an art and a science..
Yield estimation is a real art. The more in tune you are with your vineyard and the more you know your vines, the easier it will become – if you are consistently getting within 15% of the actual yield then that is considered good in cool climates. However, if you are very committed and refine the details, meticulously measuring bunch weights at lag/veraison and harvest each year, getting clear on your weight multipliers for each block, then many vineyard managers believe you should be able to get within 5% accuracy every time.

Check out 10 key metrics to monitor in your vineyard and find out how our app Sectormentor for Vines helps you record data & manage your vines for the best quality grapes

How alive is your soil? Assessing soil health at Bee Tree Vineyard with Vine-Works

How alive is your soil? Assessing soil health at Bee Tree Vineyard with Vine-Works 800 534 Sectormentor

We’re working with vineyards on exploring soil health monitoring and the value it can bring to the enterprise. Bee Tree Vineyard in West Sussex is owned and run by Vine-Works, who also provide a suite of management services from planting through to harvest for vineyards across the UK. They use their 1.5 hectare site of vines to trial new management approaches which they might then apply to vineyards they manage for their clients.

Healthy soil should be brimming with biological life and full of carbon sequestered by a diverse range of plants. Plants exude sugars into the soil through their roots during their vegetative growth, feeding micro-organisms in the soil, which can in turn unlock nutrients for plants to take up when they need them. Micro-organisms also secrete glues and slimes which hold the soil structure together, forming aggregates – the basis of healthy soil. This aggregated structure allows water and air to easily percolate around and through it, so the soil will be able to hold more water deep down in its profile for when plants really need it, as well as remain aerobic.

Synthetic and chemical inputs such as herbicides and nitrogen fertiliser, as well as turning the soil, can disrupt plant root-soil interactions and hence disrupt feeding the vital soil biology. Vine-Works have been investigating how to reduce reliance on inputs and manage soil biology positively at Bee Tree Vineyard. The Vine-Works team have replaced undervine herbicide usage with a mechanical undervine weeder which they have found very effective. They’re also trying a new type of chicken manure compost pellet made by ‘Cloud-Agro’ to further feed the life in the soil.

Improving soil biology by increasing plant and root diversity is one of the first steps on the journey to reducing inputs in a vineyard. Vine-Works have been trialling different mixes of cover crops with diverse root systems in the rows in between vines to improve soil biology. When we visited Bee Tree Vineyard we chose sample sites to assess soil health based on the different cover crops to see how these have affected soil structure and biology. Bee Tree are one of our first vineyards to start recording soil health observations using Sectormentor for Vines. These first tests form their ‘soil health baseline’ so they can understand where their soil is at now and where they want to go in the future.

By comparing between different rows that were next to each other but had been managed slightly differently we were already able to see some stark differences in how the soil was structured and stored water. One row where the cover crop sewed this Spring had never taken performed significantly worse than the neighbouring row with a cover crop that was well established from the year before. It has already enabled Vine-Works to change some of their management strategy, in that they will now plant their cover in Autumn to give it plenty of chance to establish and reduce the risk of bare soil!

We wanted to talk you through exactly what we did, the different tests and what they mean:

Our first sample site was a block of Cabernet Blanc with a deep rooting cover crop planted in between the rows, including radish, chicory and cocksfoot grass in the mix. These plant species are good at getting roots down into the soil, breaking it up, and bringing nutrients up from below. We saved the exact location of the sample site using GPS coordinates in the Sectormentor for Vines app. This means the team can go back to the same place in 6 months or a year and test again to see how things have changed.

First we dug out a spade’s width soil pit and visually assessed the soil structure (VESS test) for both under the vines and in the row. Under the vines the soil structure was quite blocky, but it did break down relatively easily in one hand. It was slightly better in the row under the cover crop, where the first inch of soil in the rooting area was nicely aggregated, but the clay got harder and blockier as we moved down the profile.

Next we did a Slake test, submerging 1p sized bits of the soil in a sieve in water and observing how quickly it broke down. The soil under the cover crops did well in the slake test, only losing around 20% of its structure. If the soil is alive with micro-organisms the structure will be held together with glues and slimes they secrete, and so it will not break down so much in water. If the soil is held together by compaction, it will break down easily. This test gives you an idea for biological life in the soil and how much soil could be running off your vineyard in heavy rain.

Finally we did Infiltration Rate test by knocking a 150mm tube into the ground and pouring in an inch of water. This gives an idea for how easily water can percolate into the ground and be stored there, instead of running off and into water courses. The infiltration rate was very slow under the vines, suggesting water can easily run off from this area. However it infiltrated faster into the cover crop, which is good news as it  suggests rain water will be better stored in the soil for drier periods when the plants need it. The Vine-Works team used the Sectormentor for Vines app to record all these results so they can start to compare them with other sample sites across the vineyard.

Next we headed next to a block of Pinot Noir with a different cover crop in between the vines, a mix including clover and trefoil. Clover is a legume and has the capacity to fix nitrogen in the soil on nodules on its roots. Here we found the cover crop had not established as well as the deeper rooting cover we previously tested.

There was much more bare soil in the row, which means there are no living roots feeding the soil in these places and the soil is more at risk of running off with heavy rain. The Vine-Works team recorded the % of bare soil, broadleaves, grasses and undesirables in the Sectormentor for Vines app so they can assess how well they are improving plant diversity. We dug out a soil block and instantly noticed how much drier and blockier it was than the soil at the first sample site. It was harder to break down with one hand, breaking up into angular blocks. So, it didn’t score as well on the VESS test as the first site!

Now onto the slake test, placing 1p pieces of soil into water; due to the high clay content in the soil it held together relatively well, but still broke down more than the first sample site, losing more than 30% of its structure, showing that there is less biological life in this soil.

We really struggled to get the infiltration rate tube into the ground, showing compaction issues, which were corroborated by the very slow infiltration rate both in the row and under the vines. The Vine-Works team recorded all the soil test results and the GPS location of the pinot noir sample in the Sectormentor for Vines app; in the future they will be able to see the sample site on the map and get back to it easily to test again and see if things have improved.

At the second sample site the lack of establishment of the cover crop had clearly affected the soil health in that part of the vineyard, whereas at the first sample site the soil biology had started to get going. It was exciting to see so clearly how the different cover crops had affected soil health, allowing the Vine-Works team to understand what’s happening below ground and make decisions on how to move forward with improving soil health. The team went onto sample another site in the Pinot Noir block which had the deep rooting cover crop and did an ‘under the hedge’ test to get an idea for how good the soil could be. For an ‘under the hedge’ test you find a completely undisturbed spot of soil, by a hedge or in a woodland, which has not had any intervention. This will give you an idea for what the soil biology and structure could be like!

“I found the soil health tests very interesting, it’s changing how I think about vineyard management.” – Matt, Vine-Works

So, what’s next on the soil health journey for Vine-Works & Bee Tree? Soil monitoring regularly will help them understand the impact of different vineyard management techniques on their soil health. After varying success at establishing cover crops this season they plan to sow their cover crops this year just after harvest (Oct/Nov) rather than in Spring. From the VESS, infiltration rate and slake tests they could easily see just how negative the impact of bare soil from a poorly established cover crop can be, so by sewing in Autumn it will guarantee plenty of water to get the cover crop established. It was also clear that undervine cultivation was greatly slowing the infiltration time under the vines, so they are much more likely to get serious run off and leaching of nutrients from this soil. They have plans to try alpine plants under the vines next season, which will provide perennial cover and living roots in the soil all year round. These are hardy plants which do not need reseeding, so it’s an exciting trial!

In the autumn the team will be heading out to do earthworm counts, as it was too dry to do them when we visited this time. Earthworms are one of the best indicators of biological life in the soil, as if they are plentiful and present and active, many of the microorganisms will be too.


Find out how Sectormentor for Vines helps you monitor soil health in your vineyard & learn how your soil is changing. Contact us if you have questions!

Case Study: Darcy Gander – Vine-Works

Case Study: Darcy Gander – Vine-Works 1000 667 Sectormentor

Vine-Works was founded by James Dodson and Darcy Gander and has been establishing, managing, maintaining and supporting vineyards across the UK for over a decade. They work with single growers, small businesses, farmers, landowners and some of the country’s largest wine producers, providing a complete range of vineyard management and technical services from concept to harvest.

Vine-Works has just started to offer a vineyard management service for small to medium scale vineyards who can’t reasonably have a full time vineyard manager. As part of the service a Vine-Works technical officer will come out to the vineyard 12-16 times a year to ensure that the vineyard is well managed and an experienced independent viticulturist is monitoring important vineyard indicators. They help with deciding how much fruit to drop, what to do for disease management and getting good yield predictions – all the key activities throughout the year.

Of course this type of vineyard monitoring and management takes time but it is extremely valuable information! Many people don’t realise just how important it is to ensure that you do a good quality bunch count, and record bunch weights at harvest in order to get a good yield prediction – this data is invaluable, an asset to the vineyard.

The Vine-Works team are using Sectormentor so that they can easily record the information they need in each season to better manage vineyards for their clients. For example, just as flowering sets in, Technical Officer – Matt – will go out to a number of random sample vines in each block and count the number of inflorescences on the vine, he enters that number for one vine and then the next, and so on. Some weeks later he goes out again and counts the number of bunches, giving a good indication of fruit set – and starting one of the most important metrics of the year – the yield prediction. This information automatically feeds into the Sectormentor Yield Predictor Tool so that a rough initial yield prediction can easily be reached, and then optimised as the season progresses.

“All viticulturalists and vineyard managers collect data in their day to day activities, this data could be perceived as the vine’s method of communicating with us, be it pruning weights to illustrate cropping potential or interveinal discolouring to show nutrient deficiency. By collecting this information we can have a greater insight into a vine’s health.

Historically, vineyard managers have recorded this type of information in notebooks but by collecting data digitally we can quickly turn measurements into viticultural information. This can further be translated into quick and easy-to-read graphics so we can provide an instant response-based vineyard management service.”

Darcy Gander, Vine-Works

Sectormentor also allows for easy data sharing amongst the Vine-Works team, so they can make full use of all of their expertise. For example, Matt sees a leaf that looks a bit unusual in the vineyard, he takes a photo in Sectormentor, records its location, and carries on with his scouting looking for disease and pest pressure around the vineyard. He can send a message to the rest of the team so they can immediately and easily look at the photo of the issue on the Sectormentor dashboard and give their feedback on what they think it might be. Sectormentor is also hugely beneficial to the vineyard owners, because they can login to the dashboard at any time and see what has been happening on the vineyard – plus they know that all the vital information such as phenological dates, bunch weights and much more are stored and accessible in one place. This kind of information is an important asset to the vineyard, and storing it in this way brings the power of the data to the vineyard owner as well as the manager.

Working with Abby, Inti and the team has always been a pleasure. They’re driven, insightful and reliable and we look to working with them long term. Sectormentor has enabled us to cover more ground, analyse data quickly and make informed management decisions immediately. We have been impressed by how much time we save using Sectormentor and how it efficiently and effectively helps us to deliver our vineyard management service.

– Joel Jorgensen, Vine-Works

We are excited to be working with the Vine-Works team to introduce some of our recommended soil health monitoring into the service as well. Due to the damp conditions in the UK managing vines more ecologically can be quite tricky – but focusing on building soil structure through increased biological activity in the soil can really help to guide you in creating a more ecological and diverse vineyard system. Vine-Works aims to introduce this soil health monitoring to the vineyards who want to focus on more ecological farming methods.

We look forward to continuing our journey with Vine-Works! If their service or Sectormentor for Vines sounds interesting to you do get in touch here.

Know your vines #6: Optimise your yield prediction and the power of our Yield Predictor Tool – PART 1

Know your vines #6: Optimise your yield prediction and the power of our Yield Predictor Tool – PART 1 3024 4032 Sectormentor

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


Use flower and bunch counts to optimise yield prediction

July is the perfect time for many vineyard owners to do bunch counts, as the grapes are forming. An accurate bunch count gets you about half way there to optimising your yield prediction. Getting your yield prediction as accurate as possible is important for small and medium scale commercial vineyards – it’s a great help for the winemakers to know in advance how much they will have of each type of grape, and how much tank space is likely to be taken up. If you get really good at optimising your yield prediction you can consistently get your prediction accurate to within 5% of your actual yield. It’s well worth it!

Luke Spalding, vineyard manager at Everflyht Vineyard, told us: “without a good yield prediction it can create a lot of stress for the vineyard team, as harvesting time can get out of control. Importantly, it also creates stress in the winery when you don’t know how much is coming in or when the harvest is going to stop!”.

We’ve come to realise that each year, yield prediction is a journey, a step by step process of optimisation, learning and understanding. With our new Yield Predictor tool it is possible to save and update yield predictions throughout the season as you gather information on your vines. In this part 1 of our yield prediction blogs we will share how to hone your prediction by getting the bunch counts right, and in part 2 we will talk about getting your bunch weights as accurate as possible from lag phase (or veraison) onwards.

Yield predictions for different blocks of vines as they progress through the season

First prediction: Inflorescence counts
You may have already started out with a ballpark figure for this year’s yield using inflorescence counts combined with the average weight for each variety-clone block from previous years. This is really easy to do in the Sectormentor Yield Predictor – you just go out and count inflorescences at a number of sample vines out in the vineyard – entering the counts in the app quickly and easily as you go. Then when you log into your account online the Yield Predictor will automatically show you the average inflorescences for each block and the total predicted yield for each block. At this stage you’re working with a fairly crude estimate, but it gets you going!

Sectormentor Yield Predictor tool using flower counts

Second prediction: Bunch counts at flower set
Next, once flower set is complete you can go out and count your bunches, allowing you to see if you have any issues with fruit set (as we talked about here). At this point you can also do your second yield prediction (easy to do in the Sectormentor Yield Predictor) now based on bunch counts — you’re getting closer, and your yield prediction can help you to make a decision on how much you want to thin your grapes (or green harvest).

Thinning the crop is a decision based on craft – you want to optimise yield while ensuring that your not putting strain on the vines. We realise that this is a bit of a balancing act – and this post covers some of the concerns. If you do decide to thin the fruit at this point, you’ll need to go out and do another bunch count afterwards to ensure you know how many bunches you still have. This may feel over the top, but unless you’ve thinned all the vines yourself, it is unreliable to assume exactly the number of bunches you wanted to remove, have actually been removed. The bunch count is the easiest thing to get right, so it’s worth making sure it’s as accurate as possible.

Fine tune your prediction with an updated bunch count after thinning
Every time you do a new bunch count you can do a new yield prediction using the Yield Predictor tool. The tool will automatically update the averages for each new count, as well as remember the bunch weights you entered last time – so it’s really quick to update your prediction and make any minor tweaks! You can also compare your current prediction to predictions you made earlier in the season, to see how the grapes are progressing, and we have a handy graph to show how the total estimated yield has changed, as well as the yield for each individual block.

Everything so far has been about ensuring we get the average number of bunches as accurate as possible. All the estimates have been based on using average bunch weights from previous years – in part 2 of this post we will look at the next steps on the yield estimate journey – getting your estimated bunch weight as accurate as possible for this season. This process starts at the lag phase (just before veraison).

Check out 10 key metrics to monitor in your vineyard and find out how our app Sectormentor for Vines helps you record data & manage your vines for the best quality grapes.

Know your vines #5: The value of understanding fruit set

Know your vines #5: The value of understanding fruit set 2000 1333 Sectormentor

In our Know your Vines blog series we will share practical tips on what metrics to monitor in your vineyard. This is the fifth instalment, stay tuned for more as the coming seasons unfold!

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”

 


 

The value of knowing % Fruit Set

The buds have burst, flowering is over (or almost over)…the caps are off and the grapes are beginning to form – we are well and truly into another season and the countdown to harvest has begun, yet again! We wanted to tell you a bit about % fruit set and why this a useful metric. If you did an inflorescence count prior to flowering then it’s very easy to determine what % of your inflorescences have “set” fruit.

Photo: Vines just finished flowering – fruit set just starting…

 

Fruit set is vital in the phenological progression of the vine, as it is the moment that the fruit actually comes into being -it’s the first indicator of how abundant (or not) the harvest might be. Knowing the % fruit set helps you to know if the vine is out of balance or if something went wrong at this point and you need to do things differently in future years.

Of course, a key factor that affects fruit set is outside of our control – the weather! High winds and heavy rain, or worse frost, can really ruin the ability for the flowers to turn into fruit. But management decisions, as well as reduced vine health, can also have a negative effect on fruit set so this is an indicator it’s important to know and learn from.

“We monitor fruit set to make sure we are managing the vineyard as effectively as possible. You have to be very careful during flowering, especially with any sprays, it can be very delicate and you can cause poor fruit set. So we always check % fruit set to learn and improve our management in following years.” Joel, Vine-Works

Poor fruit set in vines can be due to carbohydrate supply, water supply and mineral imbalance. Here is a nice description of how and why from a US vineyard outreach officer: ‘Deficiencies of any of the essential mineral nutrients (e.g Zinc, Boron) can affect fruit set detrimentally.  Unbalanced C:N status of the vine can also result in poor flower development and fruit set. Overly vigorous (lower C:N ratio) or weak vines (higher C:N ratio) with insufficient or in-efficient leaf area (e.g. due to herbicide damage, insect feeding, disease attack)  tend to have reduced fruit set and loose clusters.’ (Reference)

 

It’s also the case that different varieties are more/less likely to set all their fruit and so starting to understand different varietal and block behaviours with fruit set helps to build up a picture of those vines over time and optimise vineyard management based on the expected fruit set – it also means you can pay special attention to any areas of the vineyard that are particularly susceptible at flowering. “Flower set is dependent on the weather but some varieties are more prone to poor fruit set in certain conditions. When we count inflorescences, we assume 100% fruit set. In August when we count bunches post flowering we then update the yield prediction. And also determine the % fruit set so we can manage the blocks accordingly going foward.” Will Davenport, Davenport Vineyards.

How to calculate fruit set?

Go out and do an inflorescence count as the flowers come into bloom. Then sometime after flowering is all finished, and the caps have blown off, go out and count the number of bunches. ‘No. of bunches’ divided by the ‘No. of inflorescences’ will give you the % fruit set. Using Sectormentor makes this easy:

Monitoring with Sectormentor:
Sectormentor makes it easy to record inflorescence counts and bunch counts at the touch of a button on your smartphone out in the vineyard. All the information you record is available as soon as you get back to the office. There you can easily see the % fruit set for each block and this is recorded year on year, so you can start to build up a picture of each block and how the fruit sets for that specific clone, variety, location. This is about really knowing your vines!

 

 


Check out 10 key metrics to monitor in your vineyard and find out how our app Sectormentor helps you record data & manage your vines to build ecology, profitability and beauty for your vineyard.